Karachi bombers target 18 Shell petrol stations

Attackers on a motorbike set off a series of explosions early today at 18 Shell petrol stations in Pakistan’s troubled southern city of Karachi.

Four employees suffered minor injuries in the bombings, which began before dawn, police said.

For more than three hours, the two men drove from one station to the next, dropping explosive devices into forecourt rubbish bins.

“They were all Shell pumps that were targeted,” police chief Kamal Shah said, adding that additional security had been deployed at several foreign-based businesses, including restaurant chains.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but authorities suspected it might have been an anti-US act. In Pakistan, companies often are identified as American even when they are owned by companies based in other Western countries.

The Royal Dutch-Shell Group is an Anglo-Dutch company based in London, but also has a US-based arm.

“I heard a loud explosion maybe two or three minutes after two men on a motorcycle left,” said Mir Mohammed, a security guard at one of the petrol stations.

Police said one of the explosions, in Karachi’s affluent Clifton neighbourhood, was caused by a home-made device with a timer.

The devices were small and crude. Police said they were still investigating the attacks.

“It is a message that Shell pumps will always be on the hit list because of being a foreign company,” Shah said.

The managing director of Shell’s Pakistani subsidiary, Farooq Rehmatullah, said none of the four injured staff needed hospital treatment.

Security officials who have raided militant organisations have seized maps of Karachi with Shell stations marked as possible targets.

Authorities also consider US restaurant franchises as possible targets. Armed guards are stationed outside these food chains in most Pakistani cities.

Militant Islamic groups staunchly opposed to Pakistan’s support for the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan have launched a series of anti-Western attacks in Pakistan over the last 18 months.

Western interests have been targeted several times in Karachi, including an explosion last year outside the US consulate that killed 17 people and a suicide bombing that killed 11 French engineers outside their hotel.

Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed after being kidnapped in Karachi by a British former public schoolboy.

A government spokesman said security at foreign missions throughout the country have been tightened following Monday’s suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia on three residential compounds for foreigners that killed 34 people including the nine bombers.

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