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U.S. orders diplomats out of Lahore, Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD (AP/WJLA) - The State Department has warned Americans not to travel to Pakistan and evacuated nonessential government personnel from the country's second largest city because of a specific threat to the consulate there, a U.S. official said Friday.

The move was not related to the threat of an al-Qaida attack that prompted Washington to close temporarily 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa, U.S. officials said.

According to U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Meghan Gregonis, the U.S. is shifting its nonessential staff from the consulate in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore to the capital, Islamabad.

It's alarming news for those living in the Washington area who have loved ones in Pakistan. 

At Ravi Kabob House in Arlington, Saman Nouman worries about family in Pakistan, but thinks the media hypes the danger. 

“They describe a very high level… they exaggerate, but the thing is we talk every day with the mom and they are fine over there,” says Nouman. 

But owner Mohammad Afzal, whose daughter lives in Lahore, says things are getting worse. 

“Everybody there is not safe,” Afzal says.

Emergency personnel will stay in Lahore, and embassy officials do not know when the consulate will reopen.

"We received information regarding a threat to the consulate," said Gregonis. "As a precautionary measure, we are undertaking a drawdown of all except emergency personnel."

Sarah Cochran has visited family in Pakistan. She says people there have become used to crime, corruption and chaos.

“Been to my hotel room and had a note on my bed from the State Department saying that this is a high security area and you’re in danger,” she says. “But from my experience, I was less concerned about terrorist attacks and my safety as much as I was about getting mugged or every day kind of things.”

The consulate in Lahore was already scheduled to be closed for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr from Thursday through Sunday.

Cochran says she's frustrated at Pakistan's violence, especially in such a holy month. 

"It has a long way to go in reflecting any of the values that we believe are Islamic," she says.

U.S. consulates have been attacked in Pakistan previously. Most recently, a car bomb and grenade attack against the U.S. Consulate in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2010 killed four Pakistanis.

The personnel drawdown at the Lahore consulate was precautionary and wasn't related to the recent closures of numerous U.S. diplomatic missions in the Muslim world, said two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the order.

Earlier this week, 19 U.S. diplomatic outposts in 16 countries in the Middle East and Africa were closed to the public through Saturday and nonessential personnel were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy in Yemen after U.S. intelligence officials said they had intercepted a recent message from al-Qaida's top leader about plans for a major terror attack.

None of the consulates in Pakistan or the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad were affected by the earlier closures.

On Thursday, the State Department issued a travel warning saying the presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups posed a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan.

The country has faced a bloody insurgency by the Pakistani Taliban and their allies in recent years that has killed over 40,000 civilians and security personnel, and is also believed to be home base for al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Most of the militant attacks have been in the northwest and southwest along the border with Afghanistan.

Gunmen killed six people and wounded 15 others Friday in an attack on a former lawmaker outside a mosque in Quetta, the capital of southwest Baluchistan province, said police officer Bashir Ahmad Barohi. The lawmaker escaped unharmed. A day earlier, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 30 people at a police funeral in Quetta.

Pakistan's major cities, including Lahore, have also experienced periodic attacks.

A powerful bomb exploded at a busy market street in Lahore in early July, killing at least four people and wounding nearly 50.

Lahore is considered Pakistan's cultural capital and has a population of at least 10 million people.

A CIA contractor shot to death two Pakistanis in Lahore in January 2011 who he said were trying to rob him. The incident severely damaged relations between Pakistan and the U.S. The contractor, Raymond Davis, was released by Pakistan in March 2011 after the families of the victims were paid over $2 million.

Islamabad has also been under high alert in recent days because of intelligence received by the Pakistani government that militants were planning attacks on key targets in the city, including the airport and parliament. There was no indication that the militants were planning attacks on U.S. targets in the capital.

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