Witnesses saw smoke rising in Karachi on Thursday from an area between the United States consulate and the Marriott Hotel, with US President George W Bush due to visit Pakistan in the next few days.
Last updated at 1.30 pm
KARACHI: A suspected suicide car bomb exploded on Thursday near the United States consulate in Karachi two days before US President George W Bush was due to visit Pakistan, killing five people and injuring dozens, officials said.
Bush, in New Delhi, said that terrorists, killers will not stop his visit. An American diplomat was among those killed in the blast.
The explosions ripped through the car park of the five-star Marriott Hotel next to the consulate in the city's highest security zone, destroying at least 10 cars, damaging others including some from the US mission, and smashing windows, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
"We are investigating the motives behind the blasts but apparently it coincided with the visit of Bush," said Salahuddin Haider, spokesman for the government of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.
Islamic militants opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's close ties to Bush have launched frequent attacks on the US consulate.
A suicide car bomb outside the building in June 2002 killed 12 Pakistanis.
The US consulate is separated from the blast site by a small lane.
Haider said there was only one "powerful" bomb in Thursday's attack and that an exploding petrol tank caused a second, low-intensity blast heard shortly afterwards.
Clouds of black smoke spewed from the blazing cars in the Marriott car park and charred wreckage was strewn across the area as paramedics and firefighters rushed to the scene.
Scores of police cordoned off the site.
Karachi Police Assistant Superintendent Javed Akbar said five people were killed. A headless body was found near the damaged wall of the Marriott, he said, adding that the toll could rise.
Officials said a paramilitary soldier on security duty was among the dead and another body was stuck in a damaged car.
Hospitals in Karachi said at least 34 people were wounded, many with burn injuries.
The blast was apparently in a Suzuki Mehran car parked at the back of Marriot hotel, Akbar said.
It was so powerful that it left a crater almost three feet deep and 10 feet wide. Parts of the blazing car fell inside the hotel lobby, he said.
Sindh police chief Jehangir Mirza said it was a possible suicide car bombing.
"There is a possibility that it was a suicide attack, but we are still investigating," he said.
"It is handiwork of those who want to see disturbance in this region. The timings and selection of the blast site indicates it was a planned attack," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said.
A Western diplomat said the Marriott car park was "probably the closest to the consulate that a vehicle could get."
A number of shops at the upscale Sheraton hotel close to the site also suffered blast damage and the wall of the neighbouring Pakistan Navy hospital was also hit.
"I was on my way to my office when I heard a deafening sound. I fell on the ground and then I don't know happened afterwards. I could see nothing," Shazia, an employee of a cell phone company who goes by one name, said.
Bush is due in Islamabad at the weekend.
Volatile Karachi has been wracked by extremist and sectarian bloodshed for two decades.
As well as the June 2002 suicide attack on the US consulate in Karachi, a gunman opened fire on a police post next to the building in February 2003, killing three policemen.
In May 2004 police discovered a car filled with high-powered liquid explosives parked outside the consulate.
A suicide car-bomb attack on a bus carrying French naval engineers outside the Sheraton hotel in Karachi in May 2002 killed 11 Frenchmen and three Pakistani bystanders.
In New Delhi, Bush said he will visit Pakistan despite the attack. "Terrorists and killers cannot prevent me from going to Pakistan."
Bush extended his condolences to the people of Pakistan who suffered due to the attack.
"We send condolences to the his family and the people of Pakistan," Bush, who was briefed about the bombing by his staff, said at a joint press conference here with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after their talks.
"We will continue to work with President Pervez Musharraf in sharing information to bring terrorists to justice," said the US President.
Bush lauded Mushrraf for waging a war against terrorism saying the Pakistani President had faced terror attacks on four occasions.
"They (terrorists) have no conscience. You cannot negotiate with them, you cannot reason with them," he said, adding that all free nations should come together to bring peace in the world.
Bush said terrorists want terror go on "but we cannot let that happen."
"My visit to Pakistan is very important as we need to continue work together and combat terrorism," he said.