KARACHI: Gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed a Saudi diplomat as he was driving in Pakistan’s largest city on Monday, just days after two hand grenades were tossed at the Arab state’s consulate building, police in Karachi said.
The motive for the attack was not clear, but it comes against a backdrop of tensions between Islam’s Sunni and Shia branches, both in the Middle East and in Pakistan, and follows the killing of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden in an American raid on May 2.
Al-Qaeda is a fierce opponent of the Saudi regime and has sworn revenge for the death of bin Laden. But no one immediately claimed responsibility for the diplomat’s slaying.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, the country’s most high profile militant group, called The Associated Press to say it did not kill the diplomat. But the spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, said it was opposed to Saudi Arabia because of its alliance with the United States.
Monday’s attack took place not far from the consulate building. The diplomat — who was driving a silver Toyota Corona and was alone — appeared to be on his way to work, said police officer Zameer Husain Abbasi. He said a 9 mm pistol was used in the assault.
The victim, identified as Hasan Khattani, was a member of the security staff at the consulate, said Iqbal Mehmood, Karachi’s deputy inspector of police. He said the shooting was carried out by two men on a motorbike and appeared to be linked to last week’s grenade attack on the mission, which caused some damage but no injuries.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry condemned the diplomat’s killing and said in a statement issued Monday that Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistani authorities to increase security measures around the Saudi embassy and consulate in Pakistan. Prince Saudi Al-Faisal, the statement said, gave condolences to the family of the slain diplomat.
Officials at the Saudi mission were not immediately available for comment.
In a statement, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack and "expressed deep grief and sorrow over the tragic death of the Saudi diplomat."
Karachi is a violent southern city of 18 million people — a cauldron of ethnic, sectarian and political tensions.
Pakistan’s alliance with Sunni rulers in the Middle East has come under the spotlight since the uprisings there this year. A company with strong links to the country’s army announced it was sending 1,000 Pakistanis to Sunni-led Bahrain to help its security forces put down an uprising by its majority Shias, angering Pakistani Shias.
Saudi Arabia has funded hardline Sunnis, Iran has channeled money to Shia groups, and in the 1980 and 1990s the country was the scene of an effective proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Karachi an especially bloody battleground.
Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of citizenship and has fought Al-Qaeda.
But money from some of its citizens is believed to help bankroll the terrorist network, which has carried out scores of attacks inside Pakistan over the last 10 years.
Several of Pakistan’s Sunni extremist groups also are allied with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who view Shias as infidels. The Sunni-Shia schism over the true heir to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad dates to the seventh century.