Image: Site of blast at Danish Embassy in Islamabad
Anjum Naveed  /  AP
A Pakistani security official stands amid the rubble of the adjacent building after a bomb explosion outside the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday.
updated 6/2/2008 10:03:36 AM ET 2008-06-02T14:03:36

A huge car bomb exploded outside the Danish Embassy on Monday, killing at least six people just weeks after an al-Qaida leader urged attacks against Denmark for newspaper caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The blast echoed through the Pakistani capital, wounded dozens of people and left a crater more than three feet deep in the road outside the embassy's main gate. People, some bloodied, ran away in a state of panic.

Glass, fallen masonry and dozens of wrecked vehicles littered the area. A perimeter wall of the embassy collapsed and its metal gate was blown inward, but the embassy building itself remained standing, though its windows were shattered.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri recently called for attacks on Danish targets in response to the publication of caricatures in Danish newspapers depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Worst anti-Danish attack
The bombing was the worst anti-Danish attack since the cartoons first appeared in September 2005.

"Denmark will not alter its policy because of a terror attack," Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Copenhagen. "We will not give in to terrorists."

The car bombing follows attacks by al-Qaida against the U.S. Embassy in Yemen in March and another on the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania in February, according to IntelCenter, a U.S. group that monitors al-Qaida messages.

Pakistani officials condemned Monday's blast and the new government indicated it did not want to stop talks to strike peace deals with militants in its regions bordering Afghanistan, a pursuit eyed warily by the U.S.

The government has insisted it is not talking to "terrorists" but rather militants willing to lay down their weapons.

"There is no question of any impact of this incident on the peace process, but of course it badly harmed our image in the world," said Rehman Malik, the Interior Ministry chief.

Officials said at least six people — including two policemen — were killed and 35 people were wounded in the blast. One of the victims of the bombing could have had Danish citizenship, Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said in a television interview. He did not elaborate.

A Brazilian woman working at the Danish Embassy was hurt but her injuries were not serious, Brazil's Foreign Ministry said.

It was the second targeting of foreigners in the usually tranquil Pakistani capital in less than three months.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said the explosion killed a Pakistani cleaner and a handyman at the embassy and injured two office workers.

Moeller said in a television interview that one of the dead may have held a Danish passport. He did not elaborate.

Moeller said there was no way of immediately knowing the motive for the attack. He said the prophet cartoons were among several possible reasons.

Denmark faced threats at its embassies after a dozen newspapers in February reprinted a depiction of Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. That and other images in a Danish paper sparked riots in the Muslim world in 2006.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Moeller also said Taliban militants "who wanted to hit us because we are in Afghanistan" could be behind the blast. Denmark withdrew its troops from Iraq last year but has more than 600 soldiers in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

Embassy closures
The Norwegian and Swedish governments immediately closed their embassies. The homes of the Dutch ambassador, the Australian defense attache and the Indian ambassador, located near the Danish embassy, were damaged; No one was injured.

The U.S. Embassy urged Americans to use extra caution when traveling through Islamabad and to avoid the blast site.

Policeman Muhammad Ashraf said it appeared to be a car bomb. Someone had parked a car in front of the embassy and it exploded at around 1 p.m, he said.

Senior police officer Ahmed Latif said the car used in the bombing apparently had fake diplomatic license plates — easily identifiable in Pakistan because they are red — to get access to the street.

He said it was likely a suicide bombing but that would be determined by investigators.

Kamal Shah, a senior Interior Ministry official, said the Danish Embassy had promised to supply investigators footage from its close circuit cameras. He said investigators were trying to determine whether it was a suicide bombing, a timed bomb or detonated by remote control.

The engine of the vehicle was catapulted 100 feet. It landed in a private villa in a neighboring street.

"I was with a friend passing through a nearby street then we heard a big bang," said bystander Muhammad Akhtar. "Then we saw smoke and people running in a frenzy. We shifted at least eight or nine injured to hospitals. They all have got serious injuries. They were soaked in blood."

The office of a Pakistani development organization opposite the embassy was badly damaged. Its roof had partly collapsed.

Anjum Masood, a field operations manager for the U.N.-funded group, Devolution Trust for Community Empowerment, said dozens of its 100 employees were wounded, mostly by flying glass. His own left hand was bandaged.

He said the group had been worried about its location across from the embassy. "We tried to voice our concern that it should be moved ... We were under a lot of threat."

A plume of smoke rose above the scene of the blast and sirens wailed. The Danish flag and the EU flag were blown off their staffs and had snagged onto the first floor balcony of the main embassy building. The guard house outside the embassy was badly damaged.

Ben Venzke, CEO of IntelCenter, said the bombing was likely the work of the terror group or one of its affiliates.

He said al-Qaida laid out an extensive justification for attacks against Danish diplomatic facilities and personnel in a video last August, and repeated its threat earlier this year.

"Denmark went too far in its aggression against Muslims by repeatedly slandering the Prophet, God's peace and prayers be upon him. I urge and incite every Muslim who can harm Denmark to do so in support of the Prophet," IntelCenter quoted al-Zawahri as saying in an April 21 video.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir pledged Pakistan would do all it could to safeguard foreign diplomatic missions. "I think the Pakistani nation feels very ashamed today on incidents such as these," he said.

Considered a safe city
The Pakistani capital is regarded as one of the most secure cities in the country but embassies and aid agencies are likely to consider an evacuation of all but nonessential staff after the bombing.

In April, embassy personnel from the Netherlands shifted to a luxury hotel in Islamabad due to concerns following the release of a film critical of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, by a Dutch parliament member.

Monday's attack follows a bombing in March at a restaurant in Islamabad that killed a Turkish aid worker and wounded at least 12 others including at least four FBI personnel.

Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants have launched a wave of bombings in Pakistan over the past year, mostly targeting security forces. But there has been a relative lull in violence since a new civilian government took power two months ago and began the peace talks.

The United States has expressed concerns that the peace deals will simply give the militants time to regroup and intensify attacks on U.S. and other foreign forces inside Afghanistan.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the blast "a terrible terrorist attack" and said the United States would to help the victims of the attack, including helping to relocate diplomats whose residences were destroyed.

Pakistani Muslims have staged peaceful protests this year over the Muhammad cartoons, including about 300 people in the central city of Multan on Monday.

In April, Denmark briefly evacuated staff from its embassies in Algeria and Afghanistan because of terror threats related to the Muhammad drawings.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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