Shahid Iqbal in Karachi
A suspected suicide bomber killed ten Frenchmen, five Pakistanis and a woman passer-by on Wednesday in the southern port city of Karachi.
The police did not find any trace of the suspected suicide bomber.
Eyewitnesses said a Pakistan Navy bus carrying French technicians to the Karachi shipyard was about to start at 7.40 am, when a explosive-laden red Toyota Corolla-74 rammed into it.
Provincial police chief Syed Kamal Shah said 34 people, including 12 French citizens, were injured in the blast. The female victim had been passing by the bus during the explosion, he said.
"The bomb tore through the bus and damaged nearby buildings," said the city police chief Asad Jehangir. "The blast was so powerful that it scattered the bodies all over the area."
The French embassy in Pakistan confirmed that ten French nationals were killed in the blast. A French company -- Direction de la Construction Naval -- has some 80 people working on a submarine project for the Pakistan Navy.
The navy's bus had come to collect the technicians from the Sheraton hotel.
"It was a car bomb explosion, but we do not know whether the bomber was a Pakistani or a foreigner," said Shah.
He said so far no group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but police have found the picture of a man near the bus and were looking for him. The picture shows a man and a child in traditional Pakistani clothes.
Police did not rule out the involvement of Al Qaeda in the bombing. A senior security analyst said the Al Qaeda might be reacting to the recently launched joint US-Pakistan operation to flush out its operatives from the North Western Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.
The joint operations against Al Qaeda inside Pakistan have created a great deal of resentment among the local Pakhtoons. Pakistan denies that it is a joint operation and claims that US is providing only intelligence.
"The violence in Karachi has its own pattern," said a police investigator. "The terrorists usually hit their targets from a distance and try to escape after carrying out the attack. The suicide bombing is something new. It has a Middle Eastern touch."
Headed by the suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda is believed to have hundreds of devoted Arab volunteers who, the local police say, are familiar with
With a population of more than 13 million, Karachi is Pakistan's largest city and also the most violent.
Karachi, where hundreds of people have been killed in ethnic and sectarian violence during the past three years, has been racked by a fresh wave of violence recently.
For the last three months doctors have been the main target of terrorist attacks in Karachi and at least 40 have lost their lives.
These killings have created immense uncertainty in the city. The situation further worsened when a series of bomb blasts rocked the city. Sixteen people were injured in two bomb blasts on May 1, and 10 injured in three bomb blasts on May 2 which also killed a child.
Shah said among the five Pakistanis killed in Wednesday's blast were the driver and conductor of the bus that was to carry the victims to the Karachi harbour.
"The blast also damaged a portion of the Karachi Sheraton hotel and shattered almost all its windows," said a member of the New Zealand cricket team, which is also staying there.
Although no member of the team was injured, New Zealand has cancelled the tour.
All injured have been taken to hospitals and police have cordoned off the area around the hotel.
US and other Western embassies recently had warned their nationals to use caution while visiting Pakistan because of threats from Islamic extremists opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's policies.
Musharraf angered militant organisations when he dumped Pakistan's Taliban allies
after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.
He later banned five extremist Muslim groups in January, sparking a string of terrorist attacks across the country. At least five people, including a US diplomat's wife and daughter, were killed in March when terrorists hurled grenades inside a church in capital Islamabad during a Sunday service.
Suicide bombing in Karachi; 10 foreigners killed
Musharraf sees attempt to drive wedge between Pakistan and France
Pak police may seek international help to investigate bombing
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