USCG Karachi: Protesters Trying To Storm Compound … Remembering the 1979 Horror

The NYT reports that one person was killed and dozens of people were injured when anti-American protesters tried to storm the US Consulate General in the southern port city of Karachi.  Protesters reportedly clashed for several hours with the police and paramilitary troops on Sunday evening (September 16).

Al Jazeera says that the Karachi police have created a high-security zone around the US consulate and that they have been firing rubber bullets and tear gas to hold back protesters. See video report below via YouTube. (Dear Comcast, how is it that you still do not carry the station that covers the most volatile part of the world?)

Via Al Jazeera English

On September 12, 2012, the Consulate issued the following message:

This security message informs U.S. citizens that the U.S. Consulate General is temporarily suspending public services while assessing our security posture due to ongoing preparations for a September 13 strike against the recently signed Sindh Local Governance Ordinance. The strike has the potential to continue for several days and cause disruption. As a precautionary measure, all routine consular services have been cancelled through Friday, September 14.  In addition, the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi has restricted travel of mission personnel.

On September 13, 2012, another message:

This security message alerts U.S. citizens to recent violent protests in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. U.S. citizens in Pakistan should maintain extra vigilance. There have not yet been similar protests in Pakistan. Historically, it is not uncommon for demonstrations and protests to occur after Friday prayers. Friday prayers are generally conducted from 12:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Today, September 16, 2012, this message:

This security message informs U.S. citizens that public services at the U.S. Consulate General remain temporarily suspended because of the continuing potential for demonstrations in the vicinity of the Consulate.

Later the US Embassy in Islamabad tweeted that all personnel are safe and that it appreciate the work of the Pakistani police:

@usembislamabad: All American personnel are safe and accounted for at #USConsulate Karachi. #Pakistan

@usembislamabad: We appreciate the efforts of the Pakistani police to protect the #USConsulate in Karachi and our personnel.

In the aftermath of the murder of our diplomats in Benghazi and the burning of the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, the attempted storming of our Consulate General in Karachi fills us with trepidation.  This has happened before. In Pakistan under similar circumstances.

Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead, posted in Pakistan and later U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 2003 to 2006 on CNN remembers:

“A mob of perhaps 5,000 marched to the American Center, burned it and then marched to the consulate and attacked us. Battled by 300 Pakistani policemen, they burned our cars and tried, unsuccessfully, to burn down the consulate itself — with us inside. There were enough police to keep the crowd at bay, but not enough to disperse them quickly. After several hours, the crowd left and the police took us out in an armed convoy.”
[…]

There are eerie resemblances between that day in Pakistan and this week’s attacks in Libya and Egypt — rumors of anti-Islamic acts and groups that exploited those rumors to stir up crowds. This is the normal pattern for riots. They are not usually “spontaneous.” Instead they are instigated by opportunists. In both Pakistan and Libya, individuals tried to defend the U.S. diplomats, but the governments reacted slowly and with insufficient force.

He was talking about Nov. 21, 1979. In a day of orchestrated anti-American outrage, Pakistanis attacked several U.S. facilities across the country.  Why?  Because some Saudi Arabian religious zealot had taken over the Grand Mosque at Mecca. Iran’s Ayatollah suggested that Americans were behind the attack on Islam’s holiest place.  This was passed on in media reports and lighted the fuse that burned down the US Embassy in Islamabad and killed four people.

In November 27, 2004, WaPo writer, Cameron W. Barr, wrote A Day of Terror Recalled (1979 Embassy Siege In Islamabad Still Haunts Survivors). Excerpt below:

By 1:40 p.m., nearly 140 people — U.S. diplomats, Pakistani staff members, a visiting Time magazine correspondent — had assembled in the vault, a suite of rooms on the top floor of the three-story embassy building. Marines had covered their retreat upstairs by tossing tear gas canisters as protesters broke their way into the embassy, shattering windows and setting fires in offices.

Smoke started seeping into the vault. The people inside sat quietly, most of them on the floor, crowded into a space intended to hold far fewer occupants. The temperature rose, and the air, tainted by tear gas and smoke, grew hard to breathe. They took off extra clothing and passed around wet paper towels to use as filters.

 

They had with them in the vault, US Marine Cpl. Steven J. Crowley bleeding from a bullet wound above his left ear (he later died). When it was over, they also found the burned corpse of Army Warrant Officer Bryan Ellis, 30, who died at his apartment in the compound and two Pakistani staff members who died of asphyxiation. Ellis who left behind a wife and a 6 year old son was a veteran US pilot with 11 years of military experience.

Read the full, heartbreaking account here.

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