Gunmen kill Saudi diplomat in southern Pakistan

KARACHI (AP) — 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 Shiite branches, both in the Middle East and in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia has funded hardline Sunni groups in Pakistan for years, angering its minority Shiites. Meanwhile, Iran has channeled money to Shiite 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.

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 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.

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 Shiites, angering Pakistani Shiites.

Pakistan is a majority Sunni Muslim country, and most of its Shiite and Sunni citizens live with each other peacefully. But extremists on both sides have targeted each other's leaders for many years.

Several of Pakistan's Sunni extremist groups also are allied with the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network, who view Shiites as infidels. The Sunni-Shiite schism over the true heir to Islam's Prophet Muhammad dates to the seventh century.

The attacks on the consulate and its staff also follow the May 2 U.S. raid in northwest Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born chief of al-Qaida. Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of citizenship and has fought al-Qaida, 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.

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