Explosive experts yesterday defused a bomb in a small van parked next to the heavily guarded US Consulate in Karachi, sparing the building from "big destruction," police said.
It was not immediately clear who planted the device, though Islamic extremist groups have repeatedly targeted Westerners and minority Christians since the government threw its support behind the US-led war on terrorism.
The thwarted attack came just two days ahead of a scheduled visit to Pakistan by US Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is due to arrive in the country tomorrow, but was not scheduled to visit Karachi.
Security guards at the consulate informed police about the van after two men parked it there, told guards it had broken down and departed in another car, Karachi police official Mohammed Irfan said.
Police searching the van found a water tank filled with explosives, and police explosive experts disconnected a timer and detonators attached to the tank, Irfan said.
"We saved this place from big destruction," he said.
It was not immediately clear when the bomb was set to go off.
Irfan said the tank contained about 750 liters of a liquid explosive material.
Police were investigating the type of the explosive, and who planted it.
"It's an initial stage. We are investigating who may have done this," Irfan said.
Hundreds of policemen and paramilitary troops cordoned off the building, on a main road an upscale neighborhood of Karachi, and checked the area for additional explosives.
A man answering a call at the consulate, who declined to identify himself, said it was closed.
"No one is here. The consulate is closed. I am afraid I cannot tell you anything," he said.
In June 2002, a suicide bomber blew up a truck in front of the US Consulate, killing 14 Pakistanis. The attack came a month after another suicide attack outside a hotel that killed 11 French engineers. Islamic militants were blamed in the two attacks.
Investigators found that the Suzuki van used in yesterday's thwarted attack was stolen from a residential area of Karachi late on Sunday. A police investigator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the same type was used in the June 2002 bombing, leading him to believe that the same group could be responsible.
Four men, who allegedly belonged to the outlawed Islamic militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen Al-Almi, were convicted last year for the June 2002 bombing. Two were sentenced to death by hanging, and two to life in prison.
Extremists have been angered by Pakistan's support of the US-led war on terrorism, including the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
President Pervez Musharraf narrowly escaped two suicide bombings near the capital Islamabad last December. An earlier attack in Karachi in 2002 failed when an explosives-laden vehicle failed to detonate as Musharraf's motorcade passed by.