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Taliban suspected in Islamabad hotel blast

©

Latest update : 2008-09-22

Pakistani and US intelligence officials said Saturday's bomb explosion in Islamabad, which left at least 53 dead and hundreds more wounded, bore the marks of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

Click here to read our article on Pakistan's badlands: New ground zero for terror.

 

The suicide bomb attack that killed 53 people at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan’s capital on Saturday bore the hallmarks of an operation by al Qaeda or an affiliate, Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials said.

Searchers combing the burnt shell of the hotel found more charred bodies the morning after the blast which ignited a blaze that swept through the hotel, part of a U.S.-based chain and a favourite haunt of diplomats and rich Pakistanis.

Four foreigners were killed including the Czech ambassador, his Vietnamese partner and two Americans, while 266 people were wounded, 11 of them foreigners, the Interior Ministry said. A Danish diplomat was missing, the Danish Foreign Ministry said.

Internal security in nuclear-armed Pakistan, a country vital to the war against al Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, has deteriorated alarmingly over the past two years.

“The sophistication of the blast shows it’s the work of al Qaeda,” a Pakistani intelligence officer told Reuters.

Pakistan’s army is in the midst of an offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border while the United States has intensified attacks on militants on the Pakistani side of the border.

Militants have launched bomb attacks, most on security forces in the northwest, in retaliation.

“They’re giving a very clear, unambiguous message that if the government pursues these policies, this is what they will do in response,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and analyst.

An al Qaeda video, released to mark the seventh anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, included a call for militants in Pakistan to step up their fight.

“They want to destablise the country. They want to destablise democracy. They want to destroy the country economically,” Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters on Sunday.

A civilian government led by Gilani was sworn in six months ago after nine years of rule by former army chief and firm U.S.  ally Pervez Musharraf and is also facing an economy on the verge of collapse.

The attack was staged hours after new President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, made his first address to parliament, a few hundred metres from the hotel, calling for terrorism to be rooted out.

Zardari on Sunday called the bombing cowardly.

“This is an epidemic, a cancer in Pakistan which we will root out,” he said in a televised address. “We will not be afraid of these cowards.”

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said the army stood with nation in its resolve to defeat the forces of extremism and terrorism.
 

HUGE CRATER

Saturday’s attack was the worst yet in the capital.

Interior Ministry said the truck was packed with 600 kg (1,320 lb) of explosives including artillery shells, mortar bombs and shrapnel.

The blast left a crater 24 feet (7 metres) deep and 59 feet (18 metres) wide, ministry official Rehman Malik told a news conference.

Malik showed security camera footage from the front of the hotel, which had been bombed twice before, showing a truck trying unsuccessfully to force its way through security barriers.

A small blast could be seen going off in the truck cab, apparently as the bomber blew himself up with a grenade, which started a fire. Minutes, later, after a guard tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher, the truck blew up.

Flames and smoke poured out of the 290-room, five-storey hotel located in a high security zone. Dozens of cars were destroyed and windows shattered hundreds of metres away.

Survivors said hotel security men had warned guests to move to the back of the building shortly before the bomb went off.

Most people managed to flee from the fire before it spread but a Reuters photographer saw a body lying on a top floor balcony on Sunday morning.

Malik declined to speculate who was behind the attack but
suggested the investigation would end up pointing to al Qaeda
and Taliban militants based in the Federally Administered Tribal
Areas (FATA) on the Afghan border

“In previous attacks, all roads led to FATA,” he said.

Many Islamabad-based expatriates were considering leaving, after shrugging off earlier, smaller attacks in the city.

“I’ll be speaking to my boss tomorrow,” said Steve, a Briton who has worked in Islamabad for a Pakistani firm for several years and did not want to give his full name.

Zardari, who won a presidential election this month, left for the United States on Sunday and is scheduled to meet President George W. Bush in New York on Tuesday before the U.N.  General Assembly.

The attack will be a big blow for foreign investment and will lead to further weakening of the rupee which is already trading at a record low, dealers and analysts said.

Date created : 2008-09-21

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