Friday, August 9, 2013

U.S. Pulls Staff From Pakistan Consulate as Violence Continues

Islamabad, Pakistan — August 9, 2013(7STARNEWS)The United States ordered staff pulled from its consulate in Lahore on Friday, citing terrorist threats that also led the State Department to advise Americans against traveling to Pakistan as violence continued to rattle the country for another day.

"The Department of State ordered this drawdown due to specific threats concerning the U.S. Consulate in Lahore," the warning stated. Except for a small number of emergency personnel, the diplomats in Lahore were moved to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, a senior Obama administration official said.

At this point, it does not appear that the threat against the consulate is related to a broader terrorism alert that prompted the State Department to close 19 diplomatic missions in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the official said.

The withdrawal of personnel and the travel warning came a day after bombers struck a funeral in western Pakistan and a graveyard across the border in Afghanistan, leaving at least 44 people dead on one of the holiest days on the Muslim calendar.

In its warning against travel to Pakistan, the State Department cited the continuing threat posed by terrorist violence in the country.

"The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan," read the advisory.

The heaviest toll in Thursday's violence was inflicted in the Pakistani city of Quetta, in western Baluchistan Province, where at least 30 people died in a suicide attack at the funeral of a police officer who had been killed just hours earlier.

At the eastern end of the border, in the Afghan province of Nangarhar, a bomb exploded at a graveyard where people had gathered to pay their respects to a slain relative. Fourteen women and children from the same family were killed.

Reporters in Quetta described scenes of chaos and devastation after the attack on the police funeral. At least 21 officers were among the 30 killed, including a deputy chief in charge of field operations, Fayyaz Ahmed Sumbal.

Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the Taliban was responsible for the Quetta attack and said that the group would continue to target police officials, according to local news media outlets.

On Friday, violence continued to wrack Quetta, where at least 10 people were killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on people coming out of a mosque after offering prayers, rescue workers said. Pakistanis are celebrating the first day of Id al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of holy month of Ramadan, but a vicious wave of violence in recent weeks has cast a pall over the country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on Friday and police officials speculated that a former provincial minister, who was also present inside the mosque and remained unharmed, could have been the target of the shooting.

The violence has rattled the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who ordered Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to visit Quetta soon. Mr. Sharif also asked him to present the final draft of a much-awaited national counterterrorism strategy on Aug. 30.

Critics say the lack of such a strategy has resulted in confusion and lack of consensus about how to deal with the terrorists.

Opposition politicians urged the government to immediately convene a national conference of all political parties to come to a policy consensus. "The delay is causing more acts of terrorism," said Syed Khurshid Shah, an opposition lawmaker belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party.

The attack in Afghanistan occurred in the Ghanikhel district, near the border with Pakistan. The victims were visiting the grave of a relative on the first day of Id al-Fitr.

The provincial authorities said a bomb apparently planted on a grave exploded once the family gathered around it.

"My family is finished," Hajji Ghalib, a relative of the victims, told The Associated Press. "These people are inhuman."

Suspicion fell on the Taliban, who the United Nations says are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

The 14 victims, seven women and seven children, had been visiting the grave of an elder who was assassinated by the Taliban this year. President Hamid Karzai denounced the bombing as "a cowardly act by the enemies of the people of Afghanistan who are not part of any religion."
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