Pakistani Iranian consulate worker shot in Peshawar

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Thu Nov 12, 2009 6:16am EST

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A gunman shot dead a Pakistani working at Iran's consulate in the city of Peshawar on Thursday, police said, in an attack likely to compound strains in relations between the Muslim neighbors.

Police declined to speculate on a motive for the killing of consulate public relations officer Abul Hassan Jaffry, which came almost exactly a year after an Iranian diplomat was abducted in the same city. The diplomat is still missing.

"As he came out of the narrow street where his house is, an attacker on foot was waiting and opened fire and then ran away," Peshawar's police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told Reuters.

Hassan died on his way to the hospital.

"No one saw the attacker. We've just got shell casings from a pistol from the spot," he said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi condemned the "heinous crime" and said the culprits would be brought to justice.

Ties between mostly Sunni Muslim Pakistan and majority Shi'ite Muslim Iran were strained last month by a suicide bomb attack in southeastern Iran which killed 42 people.

A Sunni Muslim rebel group, Jundollah (God's Soldiers), claimed responsibility for the attack in which 15 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, including six senior commanders, were killed along with 27 other people.

Iran says the militants operate from the Pakistani side of the border and has demanded Pakistan hand over their leader, Abdolmalik Rigi.

Pakistan condemned the bombing and vowed to help Iran track down those responsible, but it says Rigi is in Afghanistan.

Iran said Jaffry's killing was "a terrorist and inhumane act" and it urged Pakistan to take "serious steps" to ensure the protection of its staff and missions, a Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by state broadcaster IRIB.

The U.S. embassy in Islamabad also condemned the murder, saying it was a new tactic by extremists hoping to isolate Pakistan.

"It will not succeed. The international community is firm in its support of the Pakistani people and their democratic government," the embassy said in a statement.

Iran's consul general in Peshawar, Abbas Ali Abdolahi, said Jaffry's killing was a plot by the common enemies of Iran and Pakistan.

"It aims to strain the relationship of the two countries," Abdolahi was quoted as saying by IRIB.

Abdolahi said Jaffry was shot by two motorcycle riders.

On November 13 last year, gunmen kidnapped an Iranian diplomat in Peshawar after killing one of his Pakistani guards.

Peshawar is the capital of North West Frontier Province, which borders Taliban strongholds in lawless lands along the Afghan border.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider in Islamabad, Tehran bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)

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