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September 20, 2017

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Suicide car bomber strikes US consulate vehicle in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A suicide car bomber struck a U.S. consulate vehicle in Pakistan on Monday, killing four people in the deadliest attack targeting Americans in the front-line state of the war on al-Qaida for two years.

U.S. officials said no Americans were killed, despite statements from a regional Pakistani cabinet minister that two Americans were among the dead.

Up to 19 people were wounded when the bomber struck during the morning rush hour in the northwestern city of Peshawar, near the office of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and residential quarters used by the U.S. consulate.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but it was at least the third time that the consulate and its staff have been targeted by militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida since April 2010.

The U.S. State Department said a consulate vehicle was hit in an apparent terrorist strike but said no U.S. consulate staff were killed.

Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said two Americans and two Pakistanis working for the mission were receiving medical treatment for their wounds, and that the United States was "seeking further information about other victims."

A spokeswoman later told AFP that the U.S. Embassy was "not aware" that any American citizens were killed.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said four people were killed, two of them Americans.

He called the bombing "a dangerous move from the terrorists," adding that "they want to terrorize the foreigners."

Pakistani security officials told AFP that the U.S. vehicle was the target and a half-burnt American passport was recovered from a vehicle after the attack.

Peshawar police chief Imtiaz Altaf said 19 people were wounded in the blast and that the bomber's vehicle had been packed with up to 110 kilograms of explosives, including more than 10 mortar shells.

An AFP reporter saw two dead bodies in a hospital morgue, one of which was burnt beyond recognition. The other appeared to be of a local resident.

Police said they believed the two bodies belonged to passersby.

Mohammad Sadid, 35, said he was driving to work at his pharmacy when he heard a deafening blast on the opposite side of the road in University Town neighborhood.

"It was so powerful that it jolted my car with a massive jerk. My head banged the steering wheel and the windshield. I couldn't understand what had happened. I saw a car on fire. It became a large fireball," he told AFP.

The explosion left a crater in the road, damaged vehicles and demolished the facing walls of four nearby houses, an AFP reporter said.

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