Top US diplomat escapes gun attack in Pakistan

Lynne Tracy, the principal officer for the US consulate in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, was "100 percent safe," police official Riaz Khan said.

Pakistan attack 88 (photo credit: AP)
Pakistan attack 88
(photo credit: AP)
Gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying the top US diplomat in the main city in Pakistan's volatile northwest Tuesday morning, but no one was killed or wounded, officials said. Meanwhile, a bomb exploded at a political rally in southwestern Pakistan, wounding at least 20 people, police said. The attack in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, came a day after the government announced a ban on the Pakistani Taliban, the umbrella militant group said to be behind a recent string of suicide bombings and other assaults. It also came hours after the ruling coalition collapsed, a fracture that could strengthen a party considered more in line with US goals in the war on terror. Lynne Tracy, the principal officer for the US consulate in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, was "100 percent safe," police official Riaz Khan said. Mohammad Nabi, another police official, said an unknown number of gunmen in a Land Cruiser fired from an open window before fleeing the scene. He said the driver managed to reverse the vehicle and reach the residence of the US official. The US Embassy provided few details, saying only that there was a "security incident" involving three consulate employees. It would not name or describe the employees. "There were no injuries and minimal damage to the vehicle," spokesman Lou Fintor added. "We are coordinating with Pakistani authorities in investigating the incident." Fintor declined to comment on US security procedures and said he did not know if Tracy's vehicle was armed or what type it was. Tracy lives in a part of Peshawar known as University Town, an upscale and heavily guarded part of the bustling, dusty city. Militant activity is rampant in parts of northwest Pakistan, though mainly in tribal regions where US officials say insurgents have found safe havens from which to plan attacks on American and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. Peshawar, a bustling, dusty city, has not been immune, and concerns about militant activity in and around it prompted the government to stage a paramilitary offensive in neighboring Khyber tribal region earlier this year. Such offensives - including continuing army operations in the Bajur tribal region and the Swat Valley - have angered the Pakistani Taliban, who have vowed retaliation. Last week, the militant group claimed to be behind a twin suicide bombing at a weapons manufacturing complex near the federal capital, Islamabad, that killed 67 people. Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment runs deep, is considered a hardship posting for U.S. diplomats, with most coming for one-year stints without family. However, while there are occasional attacks on Western targets, directly targeting US officials is still relatively unusual. Top diplomats in particular tend to have security and are often restricted in what places they are allowed to visit. Along with its embassy, the US has three consulates in Pakistan - in Peshawar, the eastern city of Lahore and the southern city of Karachi. In 2006, a suicide attacker blew himself up outside the Karachi consulate, killing a U.S. diplomat. In 2002, five people, including two Americans, were killed when a militant hurled grenades into a Protestant church in Islamabad attended by members of the diplomatic community. Also Tuesday in Pakistan's southwest Baluchistan province, a bomb rigged to a motorcycle parked near the stage of a political rally in the town of Jaaferabad wounded at least 20 people, some critically, police official Nazir Ahmad said. Ahmad said the injured belonged to the party of Nawab Akbar Bugti, who died in 2007, when a cave in which he was hiding collapsed during a military operation against him. Bugti was a former Baluchistan governor and had led a violent campaign to pressure the central government to give his impoverished province a larger share of money for natural resources extracted from it. The recent attacks indicate an escalation in militant activity just as the country's ruling coalition has crumbled. Whereas just a week before, the two main parties united to drive longtime US ally Pervez Musharraf from the presidency, on Monday, their partnership collapsed over disputes about his successor and how to restore judges he had ousted. The main ruling Pakistan People's Party is expected to cobble together a new coalition now that its key junior partner has quit, avoiding the need for another general election. The Pakistan People's Party, long led by slain ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, moved almost immediately to calm U.S. fears that the government is paying too little attention to extremism, banning the Taliban group and demanding they surrender their arms. Bhutto's widower and political successor, Asif Ali Zardari, has announced he will run for president, and he is expected to win easily. The party submitted his nomination papers Tuesday.