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Pakistani President Orders Probe of Church Attack - 2002-03-18

Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has set up a special committee to investigate Sunday's deadly grenade attack on a church in Islamabad. Five people were killed and at least 40 others were wounded, most of them foreigners. The wife and daughter of a U.S. diplomat are among the dead.

The attack targeted a Protestant church in a diplomatic area of the city. Witnesses and police say about 70 worshipers were listening to a Sunday sermon when an unknown man entered the church and threw grenades at the gathering.

An investigation into the incident is underway but no arrests have been made so far. There are no claims of responsibility for the attack.

The Pakistani government has increased security around diplomatic missions and other foreign installations to prevent any further attacks. President Musharraf has set up a committee that will focus on whether there was a security lapse. The church is located in a heavily guarded section of Islamabad and is attended mostly by diplomatic families.

Officials speculate the attack may have been a reaction to the government's crackdown on Islamic militants and its support for the U.S. led war on terrorism in Afghanistan. An attack on a Christian church in central Pakistan last October killed 16 people.

President Musharraf says the attack is meant to sabotage his country's fight against terrorism. But Foreign Ministry Spokesman Aziz Khan told reporters Pakistan is determined to continue the effort. "It was a deplorable act, a condemnable act," he said. "A place of worship of whatever religion is a sacred place and should be respected. The investigations are going on. A special task forces has been constituted for that purpose. Pakistan is a member of international coalition in its fight against terrorism. Pakistan will continue to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca cut short her official visit to India on Monday and arrived in Pakistan. She is due to accompany the bodies of the American victims back to the United States.

One of those killed in Sundays attack was a Pakistani citizen and another an Afghan. The fifth victim has not been identified. Pakistani authorities say it might be the attacker. But they say it will be hard to identify him because his body is mutilated beyond recognition.