WASHINGTON – U.S. Embassy dependents and nonessential staff were packing to leave Pakistan on Saturday after Washington ordered their departure following an attack on a church near the embassy that killed five people, including two Americans.
The State Department cited a continued threat to Americans in the first mandatory departure of embassy staff since the Sept. 11 attacks and the launch of the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan heightened security risks.
Security was tight Saturday around the embassy in Islamabad, about 400 yards from the church where an embassy employee, Barbara Green, and her 17-year-old daughter Kristen Wormsley, were killed last Sunday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell informed Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf by telephone of the decision to scale down staff, and emphasized the decision did not reflect a lack of confidence in Pakistan's ability to protect Americans.
But in a national address Saturday, Musharraf chastised the intelligence agency for not preventing such attacks.
"First of all, we would have to improve the performance of our intelligence agencies and their duty is not to pass on information after the occurrence of the incident," Musharraf said. "Their job is to warn before such an occurrence of such incidents so that it could be checked."
Pakistani security agencies are investigating whether the Al Qaeda terror network might have been involved in the grenade attack. Interior Ministry officials said Saturday that there has been no breakthrough in the investigation.
At the same time, Pakistan is prosecuting 11 suspects in the kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, who disappeared in the Pakistani city of Karachi while pursuing a story on a radical Islamic group.
Neither the murder weapon nor Pearl's body have been recovered, but prosecutors said they have enough evidence convictions based on e-mails, videotapes and confessions.
British-educated Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and 10 others were charged Friday and their trial is expected to begin next week.
Bush administration officials declined to say whether any new threats against Americans or U.S. installations inspired the departure order.
"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," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington.
Mark Wentworth, an embassy spokesman in Islamabad, would not say how many people were leaving, but he said the process had started. He said the procedure would be similar to voluntary departures in the fall.
"Non-emergency personnel will be defined on a case-by-case basis, so it's hard to know who is going to go and who is going to stay," Wentworth said. "I suspect it will be like last fall, a very organized departure."
Despite the scaling down of workers, the embassy and consulates in Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi will remain open for business.
The embassy suggested that other Americans in Pakistan leave the country, and if they stay, to avoid crowds, demonstrations and keep a low profile.
A few Americans who were seen on the streets of the capital on Saturday refused to discuss their travel plans. The embassy was closed through Monday for the annual Pakistan National Day holiday.