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Iranian Diplomat Kidnapped In Pakistan City Of Peshawar

The bullet-riddled car of the kidnapped Iranian diplomat in Peshawar

The bullet-riddled car of the kidnapped Iranian diplomat in Peshawar

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Gunmen have kidnapped an Iranian diplomat in northwestern Pakistan's Peshawar, officials said, soon after a U.S. aid worker was killed in a city hit hard by an Islamist insurgency spreading from Afghanistan.

The diplomat's driver was killed in the attack.

Suspicion for the attack, a day after the U.S. aid worker was killed, will inevitably fall on the Taliban and affiliated Sunni Muslim militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, who hate Shi'ite Muslims and predominantly Shi'ite Iran almost as much as the West.

Criminal gangs using religion as a cover are also active in the area. Spiralling violence has raised fears that nuclear-armed Pakistan could slide into chaos unless the seven-month-old civilian government and army can throttle the militant threat.

Pakistan's support is seen as vital to the defeat of Al-Qaeda globally and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Peshawar is the last city on the road to the Khyber Pass, the main land route to Afghanistan, and has borne the brunt of an Islamist insurgency spreading from neighboring tribal lands.

Car Ambushed

The diplomat was on his way to the consulate from his home when his car was ambushed in Hayatabad, a neighborhood bordering the Khyber tribal region. Afghanistan's ambassador-designate to Pakistan was kidnapped from the same place on September 22.

The Iranian Consulate in Peshawar confirmed that commercial attache Heshmatollah Atharzadeh had been kidnapped.

"On hearing guns shots, I rushed out of my home and saw the body of the guard lying there," Abid Hussain, a neighbor of the diplomat, told Reuters. "By that time, Atharzadeh had been taken away."

Bakht Munir, a senior police official, said witnesses had told police the guard was shot trying to resist the kidnappers as they snatched Atharzadeh.

Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, Mashollah Shakeri, as saying that under diplomatic conventions, "Islamabad is responsible for the safety of Iranian diplomats."

U.S. aid worker Steve Vance and his driver were killed outside Vance's Peshawar home, where he lived with his wife and five children, on November 12.

In late August, three members of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar escaped unhurt after gunmen ambushed their vehicle.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in Washington late on November 12 that the consulate in Peshawar had put out a notification urging employees and other Americans in the area to stay at home or in their offices until further notice.

Peshawar became a den of spies and jihadis in the 1980s when the United States and Saudi Arabia covertly funded a mujahedin guerrilla war to expel the Soviet Army from Afghanistan.

To this day, Pakistani officials, usually privately, voice suspicions that neighboring countries are stirring trouble in the tribal lands as they compete for influence in Afghanistan.

Pakistan also has a history of sectarian violence between militants from the majority Sunni and minority Shi'ite sects.