ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – An apparent car bomb exploded outside the Danish embassy in Pakistan's capital Monday amid threats against Denmark over the reprinting of Prophet Muhammad cartoons in newspapers.
At least six people were killed and dozens were injured in the blast.
The blast echoed through Islamabad and left a crater more than three feet deep in the road in front of the embassy. Shattered glass, fallen masonry and dozens of wrecked vehicles littered the area. A plume of smoke rose above the scene as people, some bloodied, ran back and forth in a state of panic.
The explosion appeared to be a car bomb, police officer Muhammad Ashraf said. Someone parked a car in front of the embassy and it exploded at around 1 p.m, he said.
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.
Officials said at least six people — including two policemen — were killed and 35 people were wounded in the blast. The only foreign national reported hurt was a Brazilian woman working at the Danish Embassy. Her injuries were not serious, Brazil's Foreign Ministry said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Al Qaeda 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.
Denmark has faced threats at its embassies following the reprinting in Danish newspapers of the caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims generally consider depicting the prophet to be sacrilegious and Islamic militants had warned of reprisals.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the bombing "an attack against Denmark."
But he said the country would not be cowed by terrorists.
"Denmark will not alter its policy because of a terror attack," he told reporters. "We will not give in to terrorists. We will maintain the foreign and security policy line we have been leading."
Pakistan's new government is trying to strike peace deals with militants in its regions bordering Afghanistan, a pursuit eyed warily by the U.S.
Pakistani officials condemned the blast but indicated they did not want to stop the talks. 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.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said the explosion killed a male Pakistani custodian at the embassy and seriously injured a handyman. Two office workers were also injured, Moeller said.
He condemned the attack as "totally unacceptable."
"It is terrible that terrorists do this. The embassy is there to have a cooperation between the Pakistani population and Denmark, and that means they are destroying that," Moeller told Denmark's TV2 News channel.
In April, Danish intelligence officials warned of an "aggravated" terror threat against Denmark because of the cartoon. The warning specifically singled Pakistan, along with North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Ben Venzke, CEO of IntelCenter, a U.S. group that monitors Al Qaeda messages, said the bombing was likely the work of the terror group or one of its affiliates.
He said Al Qaeda 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.
"I urge and incite every Muslim who can harm Denmark to do so in support of the Prophet, God's peace and prayers be upon him, and in defense of his honorable stature," 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.
It was the second targeting of foreigners in less than three months in the usually tranquil Pakistani capital. A bombing in March at a restaurant in Islamabad that killed a Turkish aid worker and wounded at least 12 others including four FBI personnel.
"I was with a friend passing through a nearby street then we heard a big bang," said witness 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."
Footage from the scene showed rescue workers dragging away a bloodied person, covering his torso with a blanket.
Sirens wailed as ambulances took the wounded from the scene. One group of rescuers carried away what appeared to be the upper half of a man's body. Pieces of metal and glass were scattered at least 200 yards from the blast site.
The Danish flag and the EU flag were blown off their staffs and the windows of the embassy were blown out.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry closed its embassy a few hundred yards from the Danish mission. It suffered "glass breakage" from the blast, a ministry statement said. The Swedish embassy also shut down, Swedish foreign ministry spokesman Kent Oberg said.
The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, urged Americans to use extra caution when traveling through Islamabad and avoid the blast site.
The office of a Pakistani development organization opposite the embassy was badly damaged, its roof partially 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 because of flying glass. His own left hand was bandaged.
Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants have launched a wave of bombings in Pakistan over the past year, mostly targeting security forces.
There had been a relative lull in violence since a new civilian government took power two months ago and began peace talks with the Taliban based along the Afghan frontier.
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.
In April, Denmark briefly evacuated staff from its embassies in Algeria and Afghanistan because of terror threats related to the Muhammad drawings. Foreign Minister Moeller then suggested Danish embassies in other locations also could be forced to relocate their staff following a warning in March by Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.