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Police: American shot dead in northwest Pakistan

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Gunmen shot and killed an American aid worker as he traveled to work Wednesday in northwestern Pakistan, the latest in a spate of attacks on foreigners in the militancy-wracked country.

Police did not speculate on the identity of the assailants, who also killed the man's driver. But similar attacks against Pakistani security forces and foreigners have been blamed on al-Qaida- and Taliban-linked fighters, who are increasingly active in the region, which borders Afghanistan.

The shooting occurred in University Town, an upscale area of the main northwestern city of Peshawar where a top U.S. diplomat was attacked just a few months ago, police official Arshad Khan said.

Police identified the dead American as Stephen Vance, and officials said he was involved in U.S.-government funded development projects in the tribal areas next to the border.

The gunmen blocked the men's vehicle in a narrow lane with their own car, then opened fire with automatic weapons, said a Western security official in Peshawar.

"Several bullets hit them, and they died in the vehicle," Khan said.

"It (the attack) was obviously well-targeted," said the foreign official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media.

Pockets of the northwest have become safe havens for al-Qaida and Taliban operatives involved in attacks on U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan as well as rising violence within Pakistan.

Peshawar has not been spared the suicide bombings and shootings that are plaguing much of the rest of Pakistan, but until recently it was considered relatively safe for foreigners to live there.

In August, Lynne Tracy, the top U.S. diplomat in northwestern Pakistan, narrowly survived a gun attack on her armored vehicle in University Town.

Kidnappers are also currently holding the Afghan ambassador-designate, a Chinese engineer and a Polish surveyor. All were seized in the northwest.

In September, a massive suicide truck bomb devastated the Marriott Hotel in the capital, Islamabad, killing at least 54 people, including three Americans and the Czech ambassador.

The army is involved in a major offensive in the border region that has killed some 1,500 alleged militants since it began in August. The United States is also targeting al-Qaida with missiles fired from unmanned drones launched from Afghanistan.

Also in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, security forces hunted for militants who seized military vehicles with supplies destined for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a brazen raid.

Dozens of gunmen hijacked around 13 trucks carrying the items at the entrance of the Khyber Pass on Monday. Twelve of the trucks were carrying wheat from the World Food Program, government official Fazal Mahmood said.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. John Redfield said late Tuesday that Humvees and water tank trailers were among the items missing in the highly organized attack.

Mahmood said the two military jeeps were mounted with guns.

He said a child was killed hours after the incident when a Pakistani army helicopter fired shells on some suspected militants in the area where the trucks were hijacked.

In other violence Wednesday, three security forces died when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle at the gate of government school for boys in the northwestern village of Subhan Khwar, 22 miles (35 kilometers) north of Peshawar.

No students were inside, said Pir Shahab Khan, an area police chief. He said several people were also injured in the attack, most of them security forces.