PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Gunmen killed a Pakistani working at the Iranian Consulate in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Thursday, adding to security fears in the country as it presses an offensive against the Taliban along the nearby Afghan border.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes amid tensions between Pakistan and Iran over Tehran's allegations that Pakistani intelligence agents had a role in a deadly suicide bombing last month in Iran.
The attackers opened fire on Abul Hasan Jaffri while he was in a car near his home in a central part of Peshawar, said police official Mohammad Kamal. Jaffri, who was the director of public relations at the consulate, died at a military hospital. The gunmen escaped after the shooting.
Iran is mostly Shiite Muslim, as was Jaffri. Pakistan's Shiite minority has often been targeted by Sunni Muslim militants like the Taliban and al-Qaida, which believe they are infidels. An Iranian diplomat in Peshawar was abducted in November 2008. His whereabouts are unknown.
The head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula released an audio message on the Internet earlier this week denouncing Shiites, especially Iranians, calling them some of the greatest enemies of Sunnis.
In the 1980s, Iran was alleged to have funded radical Shiite groups in Pakistan and later supported forces fighting the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. The Taliban responded by killing several Iranian diplomats in northern Afghanistan in 1998.
In Pakistan, Taliban militants are waging a war against the government because they deem it un-Islamic and are angry about its alliance with the United States. The insurgency began in earnest in 2007, and attacks have grown more frequent since the army launched an offensive in mid-October against the Taliban's main stronghold in South Waziristan.
The latest fighting in South Waziristan killed 22 militants and five soldiers, the army said in a statement Thursday. The information is nearly impossible to verify independently since Pakistan has blocked access to the battle zone.
Analysts believe many militants have fled South Waziristan rather than stay to fight the army. Police arrested seven suspected Taliban militants in the southern city of Karachi on Thursday who came from the tribal area. Authorities confiscated suicide vests and some 660 pounds of explosives from the men, said Karachi police chief Waseem Ahmed.
Areas in and around Peshawar have experienced the brunt of militant attacks following the start of the army offensive. A car bomb exploded in a market in Peshawar at the end of October, killing at least 112 people in the deadliest attack in Pakistan in over two years.
Even before the recent army offensive, Peshawar was a scene of significant militant violence.
In 2008, gunmen ambushed a car carrying the Afghan consul toward his home in Peshawar, killing the driver and abducting the envoy, who had recently been selected as the next ambassador to Pakistan. His fate remains unclear. Suspected militants also killed a U.S. aid worker there last year and opened fire on a car carrying the top U.S. diplomat there.
The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan condemned Thursday's assassination, saying it represented an effort "by extremists hoping to isolate Pakistan from its supporters in the international community."
Tehran, too, expressed its disgust, calling the killing a "terrorist and inhuman act." A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast, urged Pakistani officials to find and punish the attackers and to provide more protection to diplomatic buildings.