Published: Apr 05, 2010 4:06 PM EDT

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Islamist militants attacked a U.S.

consulate in northwest Pakistan with car bombs and grenades Monday,

killing three people, hours after 41 people died in a suicide

attack on a political rally elsewhere in the region.

 

The assaults illustrated the resilience of militants in the

country despite intense army operations and U.S. missile strikes in

their northwestern havens near Afghanistan.

 

After the car bombs exploded at a checkpoint outside the

consulate in Peshawar, militants dressed in security uniforms fired

mortars or rocket-propelled grenades at the heavily fortified

compound in an attempt to make their way inside, said a Pakistani

intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because

he was not authorized to talk to the media.

 

"I think they could not manage to get inside," provincial

Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour told reporters outside the

consulate.

 

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said the militants attempted to

enter the building and fired grenades and other weapons. It said no

Americans were killed in the assault, but did not say whether the

building itself was damaged.

 

Al-Qaida and Taliban militants have long vowed to attack the

United States, which has fired scores of missiles at them in their

northwestern strongholds over the last year and a half. Washington

has also given billions of dollars in aid to the Pakistani army,

which is also attacking the Muslim extremists.

 

The last attack against a U.S. mission was in Karachi in 2006

when a militant rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into the car of

an American diplomat near the consulate, killing him and three

others.

 

The three people killed in Monday's attack included a

paramilitary soldier, a private security guard and a civilian, said

police official Sattar Khan. Four militants were also killed during

the attack and three other people were wounded, he said.

 

"They were well equipped," said Bilour. "They had a lot of

explosives."

 

Police discovered suicide jackets after the militants were

killed and defused them, said Bilour.

 

Two of the blasts took place around 20 yards (meters) from the

main entrance to the consulate, an Associated Press reporter close

to the scene said.

 

Local TV footage from Peshawar showed soldiers taking up

defensive positions on the road outside the consulate. One soldier

hit the ground in the middle of the road and began firing as a

large explosion sent up a plume of gray smoke nearby. Rescue

workers carried at least one wounded man away on a stretcher, his

clothing soaked with blood.

 

The U.S. is only one of three countries to have a diplomatic

presence in Peshawar, which has seen repeated militant attacks over

the last 18 months. As well as attacking militants and hunting

al-Qaida in the northwest, Washington is also funding many

development projects in the region aimed at cutting support for the

insurgents.

 

It is unclear how many diplomats work at the building.

The top U.S. diplomat at the consulate survived a gun attack on

her armored vehicle in Peshawar in August 2008. Three months later,

gunmen shot and killed an American in the city as he was traveling

to work for a U.S.-funded aid program aimed at chipping away

support for militants in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

 

Given the threat level in the country, family members of

American officials assigned to the embassy in Islamabad and to the

country's three consulates were ordered to leave the country in

March 2002 and have not been allowed to return.

 

Shortly before Monday's attack, a suicide bomber struck a rally

held by a Pashtun nationalist party in Lower Dir to celebrate the

government-supported proposal to change the name of North West

Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, said local police chief

Mumtaz Zarin Khan.

 

"A police official spotted the bomber a second before he

exploded," said Khan. "The official shot at him, but by that

time, he had done his job."

 

A total of 41 people at the rally in the town of Timergarah were

killed and 80 wounded, he said.

 

Local TV footage showed people in tears running and carrying

wounded in desperate search for help from rescue workers.

 

"Such acts only reflect the barbarian approach of the

militants," said an Awami National Party lawmaker from the

district, Malik Azmat. "They are not humans."

 

Lower Dir lies next to the Swat Valley, which was the target of

a major military offensive last year that succeeded in driving out

the militants. Other major operations in the Afghan border region

followed, and have gone some way in reassuring the world that

Pakistan is not falling to the extremists.

 

The frequency of militant attacks in Pakistan over the last

three months has dropped compared to the final quarter of last

year, but experts have cautioned it is far too early to say this

means the insurgents are in retreat.