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Top Afghan Diplomat Abducted in Pakistan

A senior government official says Pakistan's top civilian and military leaders had planned to dine at Islamabad's Marriot Hotel when a suicide car bombing struck it, killing 53 people. While an investigation is under way into the country's deadliest suicide bombing, unknown gunmen kidnapped Afghanistan's ambassador-designate in the northwest Pakistan city of Peshawar. From the Pakistani capital, Ayaz Gul gives more details on worsening security situation in the country.

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, Interior Ministry head Rehman Malik disclosed that Pakistan's President, Prime Minister, and Army chief were planning to attend a dinner party at the Marriott Hotel when it was bombed.

Malik says perhaps the terrorists knew that the Marriott was the venue of the dinner and the entire leadership of the country would be present there. But he says the dinner was moved to the Prime Minister's official residence at the 11th hour on the instructions of the president and the prime minister. The interior ministry chief did not explain why the two leaders decided to change the venue of the dinner party.

Officials say that nearly 270 people were wounded in the bombing, while the dead included the Czech ambassador to Pakistan and American nationals.

A U.S Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor gave details of the American casualties in the weekend bombing.

"Two American citizens died of injuries sustained during the September 20th bombing of the Islamabad Marriot Hotel. Those individuals were Department of Defense employees. In addition, a State Department contractor, an American citizen, is unaccounted for at this time. However, we are continuing efforts to determine this employee's status," said Fintor.

There are no claims of responsibility, but Pakistani authorities suspect militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaida terror network for the bombing. The attack prompted the British Airways to temporarily suspend flights to Pakistan.

In a further sign of the worsening security situation in the country, unknown gunmen have kidnapped Afghanistan's ambassador-designate, Abdul Khaliq Farahi in the northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar. The kidnappers ambushed the diplomat's car in a residential area of the troubled city and killed his Afghan driver.

Speaking to VOA by telephone from Peshawar, an Afghan official, Noor Mohammad Takal, says that the kidnapped diplomat was still serving as the consul general at the Afghan consulate in Peshawawr.

He says that the top Afghan diplomat was going back to his residence in the city from work, but was intercepted by armed men.

The kidnapping took place in an area that borders one of Pakistan's semi-autonoumos tribal areas, the Khyber Agency, where Taliban and al-Qaida militants are believed to have their hideouts. Pakistani security forces recently have conducted major military operations to eliminate the militants.

The latest incidents of violence in Pakistan underscore the extremist threat facing the country, a vital U.S. ally in the war against terrorism. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is set to meet President Bush in New York this week to discuss, among other things, efforts to tackle the rising militant threat.