ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A suspected suicide bomber blew up a car outside the Danish embassy in the Pakistani capital on Monday, killing six people and wounding 25, government officials said.
The blast will raise fresh questions about the safety of foreigners in Pakistan, even though militant attacks have dropped off since a new government came to power after a February general election vowing to negotiate to end violence.
Danish newspapers infuriated Muslims around the world when they published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in late 2005. The cartoons, considered blasphemous by Muslims, sparked deadly protests and attacks on Danish missions.
The embassy in Islamabad was temporarily shut in 2006 after violent protests over the sketches.
There was no claim of responsibility and while it would be premature to link the attack to the cartoons, one of which was recently reprinted in Danish newspapers, that possibility was being investigated, said Interior Ministry secretary Kamal Shah.
While officials said it was a suspected suicide attack, investigators were picking through the debris in and around a three-foot (one meter) deep crater in the road outside the mission to determine the cause.
“There’s no doubt it was a car blast. It’d be premature to say it was a suicide attack or remote-control,” Shah told reporters near the embassy in an upmarket district of Islamabad where other missions and diplomats’ houses are located.
The blast, which came just after 1 p.m. (3:00 a.m. EDT), destroyed the embassy gate and damaged the front of the building and vehicles in the compound. It also caused extensive damage to nearby buildings and vehicles.
Police and security officials said all of the dead and wounded were Pakistanis.
A guard lay dead at the gate while men hauled blood-drenched wounded into ambulances. A car engine was lying about 30 feet from the crater.
Residents said they had feared an attack on the mission.
“Since the printing of cartoons, we always had this fear,” said Sana Khalid, a woman living in the area. “But what they did to our religion, they deserve it.”
Pakistan’s main stock index ended higher in low volume despite the blast and dealers said trade in the rupee, which ended for the day just after news of the blast, was not affected.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller condemned the attack, adding that a Pakistani employee of the embassy, a cleaner, had been killed and three other Pakistani employees wounded. No Danes died, he said.
“It’s terrible that terrorists commit such acts,” he said in an interview with Danish television station TV2 News. Denmark was reviewing security at all its embassies, he said.
Windows were broken in the nearby home of the Indian High Commissioner. Pakistani authorities said they were stepping up security at embassies and police were on alert in other cities.
Pakistan went through a wave of suicide bombings in the second half of 2007 and early this year but most of the attacks were on the Pakistani security forces and politicians, including former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, killed in a December 27 attack.
Attacks on foreigners have been rare since several in 2002, but a blast at a restaurant in Islamabad in March killed a Turkish woman and wounded several other foreigners, including some U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.
The new government has opened negotiations with militants through intermediaries but the talks have raised questions in the United States and among some of Pakistan’s other allies, who fear peace deals will free up Taliban and al Qaeda militants to intensify their war against Western troops in Afghanistan.
The blast coincided with an anti-cartoon rally in the city of Multan attended by about 200 people.
After hearing news of the bomb, some protesters shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
“Whoever commits blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad will face more serious consequences than this,” said city cleric Intizar Hussain. “If it is a suicide attack, then whoever did it will go to heaven.”
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony, Asim Tanveer and Gelu Sulugiuc; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jerry Norton