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Bomb Blast Forces Closing of US Diplomatic Missions in Pakistan

The United States has closed its diplomatic missions in Pakistan following the car-bomb attack at the U.S. consulate in Karachi Friday that killed 11 people and wounded some 40 others. U.S. officials believe the blast was the work of a suicide bomber.

The State Department set up a special task force to deal with the aftermath of the bombing and said the U.S. posts in Pakistan, including the damaged consulate in Karachi, the embassy in Islamabad, and other consulates in Lahore and Peshawar, will remain closed at least through the weekend as officials assess the situation.

Staffing at the Karachi consulate had already been sharply cut back after a terrorism-related evacuation of personnel in March, and officials here say no U.S. staff member was killed in the blast.

However, they say a U.S. Marine and five local Pakistani employees inside the building were slightly injured by flying debris, and two Pakistanis standing guard outside suffered serious wounds.

The blast gouged out a crater in the street outside the consulate and caused some structural damage to the facility. Store fronts and show windows were blown out in the adjacent shopping area where most of the deaths and other injuries occurred.

A State Department spokeswoman deplored the bombing and lamented the many casualties among Pakistani passersby.

Traveling with President Bush in Ohio, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called the attack a vivid reminder of the fact the United States is at war, and that terrorists will use whatever means are at their disposal, no matter how despicable, to harm Americans and others.

The State Department had ordered the departure of all non-essential personnel and diplomatic dependents from Pakistan after a March 17 grenade attack at a church in the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad killed five people including the wife and teenage daughter of a U.S. embassy employee.

Private American citizens in Pakistan were later urged to leave the country under a travel warning linked to the rise in India-Pakistan military tensions over Kashmir.

The Karachi blast came a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld briefly stopped in Pakistan at the end of a trouble-shooting mission to the area, though there was no indication of any connection.

It followed by little more than a month a car-bombing outside a Karachi hotel that killed 11 French nationals working on a Pakistani defense project.