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Non-Essential Employees, Dependents to Leave US Diplomatic Posts in Pakistan - 2002-03-23

The State Department is ordering the departure of non-essential employees and dependents from U.S. diplomatic posts in Pakistan. The action follows a grenade attack on a church near the U.S. embassy in Islamabad last Sunday that killed five people, including an embassy employee and her teenaged daughter.

Officials here say the decision on the so-called "ordered departure" of the U.S. personnel and dependents is not driven by any specific threats, but follows an overall review of security conditions at the Islamabad embassy and the U.S. consulates in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

The day after Sunday's attack, the State Department authorized a voluntary departure for dependents and issued a warning to Americans to defer travel to Pakistan because of security concerns.

Friday's action broadens the departure and makes it mandatory, though all four of the U.S. diplomatic posts will continue in operation with reduced staffing.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker says Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf from Monterrey, Mexico to inform him of the decision and to assure him the administration is satisfied with the protection Pakistan is providing to U.S. diplomats. "This decision doesn't reflect any lack confidence in Pakistan's ability to protect Americans. We really appreciate the efforts of President Musharaff and his government," said Mr. Reeker. "We believe that the war against terrorism in Pakistan is far from over, and that we will be able to carry it on with greater focus if our dependents are not present at U-S facilities there. Pakistan itself has suffered from terrorism and understands this."

Pakistani and U.S. law enforcement officials are jointly investigating last Sunday's attack, in which a man apparently acting alone, burst into the Protestant church near the U.S. embassy in Islamabad and tossed several grenades at worshippers.

The two Americans who were killed the wife and daughter of an embassy computer technician, had been part of a voluntary departure of diplomatic dependents from Pakistan approved last September and had only returned to the post in January.

The U.S. travel warning for Pakistan issued Monday said terrorists operating there have shown a willingness to hit civilian as well as official targets citing the church attack but also the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, who was abducted in Karachi in January.