Suicide bomb plot foiled near capital, Pakistan officials say
By Munir Ahmad
The Associated Press
1:06 PM EDT, June 6, 2008
Pakistan has foiled a major terror plot, seizing three bomb-laden vehicles and arresting three suspected suicide attackers near the capital just days after an al-Qaida-claimed assault on the Danish Embassy, officials said today.
Authorities ramped up security near the sprawling enclave where most foreign diplomatic missions in Islamabad are located. The U.S. Embassy strongly advised Americans to limit nonessential movement in the city and nearby Rawalpindi.
An Internet posting Thursday, purportedly from al-Qaida in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for Monday's bombing outside the Danish Embassy that killed six people, including one Dane.
The terror group threatened to "rain" more attacks on countries where cartoons are published of the Prophet Muhammad. The images carried in various Danish and other Western newspapers over the past three years have sparked periodic unrest in the Muslim world.
Late Thursday, police and intelligence agents in Rawalpindi, about seven miles from Islamabad, arrested about six suspects including three suicide bombers, officials said.
The authorities seized three vehicles laden with more than 2,200 pounds of explosives, said Rao Mohammed Iqbal, the deputy inspector-general of Rawalpindi police.
"They (the suspects) had very destructive designs. They wanted to create mayhem on a wide scale," city police chief Nasir Durrani told The Associated Press.
He said that the arrested men were Pakistanis and that their targets included the camp office in Rawalpindi of President Pervez Musharraf, a longtime U.S. ally in its war on terror.
Pakistan's army also has its headquarters in the city.
Durrani said authorities were still investigating if the suspects had intended to target foreign embassies. He did not identify them or say whether they were affiliated to al-Qaida or any other militant group.
Starting late Thursday authorities tightened security around Islamabad's Constitution Avenue, where the presidential palace, parliament and other key government offices are located. The wide boulevard also flanks the fenced-in diplomatic enclave.
Numerous police were checking the identification documents of people entering the enclave, causing traffic jams, witnesses said.
Sweden, whose embassy lies in a leafy residential district near where the Danish mission was attacked -- just outside the diplomatic enclave -- said today it had increased security again in response to the arrests reported in Rawalpindi.
"I spoke to the ambassador a while ago, and although security was increased already on Monday, we have today increased it (even more) around both the embassy and the ambassador's residence," said Teo Zetterman, a foreign ministry spokesman in Stockholm.
Pakistani officials have said Monday's attack was launched by a suicide attacker in a car equipped with fake diplomatic registration plates. They have not identified the attacker.
It was the deadliest strike against Denmark since the publication of cartoons' first sparked unrest in early 2006. In February this year, Danish papers reprinted one drawing of Muhammad in a bomb-shaped turban, stirring more religious anger.
In Thursday's purported claim of responsibility, an al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed, said the embassy bombing was carried out by an al-Qaida martyr with help from Pakistani militants. He threatened more violence.
Prime targets would be embassies and diplomatic personnel in Pakistan from countries where cartoons were published, said Ben Venzke of IntelCenter, a U.S. group which monitors al-Qaida messages. Norway, the U.S. and all European Union member countries, including Denmark, were most at risk, he said.
The attack on the Danish mission was likely to add to Western unease over peace talks with militants launched by Pakistan's newly elected government to try to curb Islamic extremist violence.
The U.S. is worried the deals will give militants time and space to regroup in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, where Taliban and al-Qaida are believed to find sanctuary.
Today, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited Afghanistan, which fears an escalation in Taliban attacks on its side of the border. He reiterated the government's assertion that it will not cut deals with "terrorists."
Associated Press Writers Asif Shahzad and Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.
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