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8 dead after Taliban attack on U.S. Consulate

Image: Bombing site near U.S Consulate in Pakistan
A U.S. security official walks next a damaged car at the site of suicide bombings near the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan on Monday. Islamist militants attacked a U.S. consulate in northwest Pakistan with car bombs and grenades, killing three people, hours after 41 people died in a suicide attack on a political rally elsewhere in the region.Anjum Naveed / AP
/ Source: NBC, msnbc.com and news services

Four militants launched a "well-coordinated" attack on the U.S. Consulate in the Pakistani city of Peshawar Monday but were held off by security forces, officials said.

Quoting the province's governor and Pakistani police, NBC News reported that two Pakistani security guards at the U.S. Consulate were killed in the attack. One civilian and a paramilitary soldier were also killed.

NBC News reported that the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had sent four suicide bombers. All four militants were also killed.

The blasts came hours after a suicide bomber killed at least 41 people elsewhere in the northwest, officials said.

The attacks underscore the danger posed by militants in nuclear-armed U.S. ally Pakistan after a year of military offensives which have dealt the Islamists significant setbacks.

NBC News reported the militants approached from two different directions in two vans. The vehicles were driven through a heavily guarded police cordon, sparking a gunbattle.

City resident Siraj Afridi told Reuters that some of the attackers "carried rocket-propelled grenades".

"They first opened fire at security personnel at the post near the consulate and then blasts went off," Afridi added.

U.S. officials in Islamabad said the "coordinated attack involved a vehicle suicide bomb and terrorists attempting to enter the building using grenades and weapons fire."

'Well-planned attack'
NBC News reported that the attackers tried to enter the building but did not succeed. No Americans were killed or injured in the incident.

"It was a well-planned attack," a Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters.

U.S. diplomatic missions and staff have been attacked several times in Pakistan since the south Asian country threw its support behind the United States in a global campaign against militancy launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.

Dawn television showed shaky pictures of three men, apparently attackers, holding their arms up in surrender when a blast hit the area.

The blasts threw clouds of white smoke into the sky and residents said soldiers had cordoned off the scene and ordered people to remain in doors. Helicopters hovered overhead.

The assault on the tightly guarded consulate followed the bomb blast at a gathering of supporters of an ethnic Pashtun-based political party staunchly opposed to the militants.

Earlier, a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up at a meeting of the Awami National Party (ANP), in the Lower Dir district, about 50 miles northeast of Peshawar, killing 41 people, The Associated Press reported.

Police said the bomber tried to get into the ground where the ANP, which heads a coalition government in North West Frontier Province, was holding a meeting but he was stopped and blew himself up.

The ANP, which is also a member of the ruling federal coalition government, is a largely secular party and opposes the militants battling the state.

Pakistani Taliban militants have attacked ANP gatherings before.

'Desperation'
The meeting was called to celebrate the renaming of NWFP, which the party has long demanded. Under constitutional amendments expected to be approved in parliament this week, the province will be renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in a bid to represent its dominant Pashtun population.

"The Taliban have lost the battle and now, out of desperation, they are carrying out such cowardly attacks," said Haji Mohammad Adeel, an ANP senator.

The long-awaited constitutional amendments, which will also transfer President Asif Ali Zardari's sweeping powers to the prime minister, are due to be taken up in the National Assembly on Tuesday.

The amendments should ease opposition to the unpopular Zardari and promote political stability, analysts say.

Zardari is due to address parliament later on Monday in the capital, Islamabad, where security has been stepped up for the session.