Alexa

Truck bomb destroys Pakistan Marriott, kills 40

Truck bomb destroys Pakistan Marriott, kills 40

A huge suicide truck bomb devastated the heavily guarded Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital Saturday, killing at least 40 people and injuring 250 in a reminder of the threat in a country vital to the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The blast left a vast crater some 30 feet (10 meters) deep in front of the main building. Rescuers ferried a stream of bloodied bodies from the gutted structure, then pulled back for fear that it could collapse. The fire was still burning at 2 a.m., six hours after the blast, sending up a thick pall of smoke over the area.
The bombing at the upscale hotel appeared to be one of the largest terrorist attacks ever in Pakistan and came at a time of growing anger over a wave of cross-border strikes on militant bases by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The five-floor Marriott is a favorite place for foreigners as well as the Pakistani elite to stay and socialize, despite repeated militant attacks over the years. One American was confirmed among the dead.
Hospital staff and other officials said the 250 injured included four Britons, four Germans and one each from the U.S., Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Libya, Lebanon and Afghanistan. The Saudi ambassador said several staff from the kingdom's national airline were missing.
The bombing came just hours after President Asif Ali Zardari made his first address to Parliament, less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away from the hotel.
Zardari reappeared after midnight on state television to condemn the "cowardly attack."
He said he understood the victims' pain because he had buried his own wife _ assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto _ in December.
"Make this pain your strength," he said. "This is a menace, a cancer in Pakistan that we will eliminate. We will not be scared of these cowards," he said.
Law Minister Farooq Naek said the attack was Pakistan's 9/11.
Rehman Malik, the head of the Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that it was unclear who was behind the attack and that there had been no claim of responsibility, but that authorities had received intelligence that there might be militant activity due to Zardari's address to Parliament. Security had been tightened, he said.
Pakistan faces a raging insurgency by the Taliban in the border areas, where Western governments worry that al-Qaida militants could be plotting more attacks on their cities. Security officials say the two groups work together to carry out attacks in Afghanistan as well as a stream of suicide bombings in Pakistan.
U.S. President George W. Bush said the Marriott attack was "a reminder of the ongoing threat faced by Pakistan, the United States and all those who stand against violent extremism."
"We will fully support the democratically elected government of Pakistan and the Pakistani people as they face enormous challenges economically as well as from terrorism," he said.
The nearly 300-room Marriott served as the headquarters for the international media during the 2001 war against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
Its location made it vulnerable.
It lies just off a busy thoroughfare, less than a mile (a little more than a kilometer) from the presidential offices and Parliament. The heavy security gate stood only 60 feet (18 meters) from the main building _ well within the range of the blast wave.
Witnesses said they saw a large truck drive up to the fortified main gate of the hotel at about 8 p.m. (1400 GMT), when its restaurants would have been packed with diners, including Muslims breaking the Ramadan fast.
Mohammed Asghar, a worker from a nearby office with a makeshift bandage round his head, said there was more than one man in the truck and that they had argued with the hotel guards.
"Then, there was a flash of light, the truck caught fire and then exploded with an enormous bang," he said.
Senior police official Asghar Raza Gardaizi estimated that the blast, which reverberated throughout Islamabad, was caused by more than 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of explosives.
In the pandemonium that followed, AP reporters saw at least nine dead bodies at the scene. Scores of people ran or staggered from the building, many of them bloodied and covered in dust.
A U.S. State Department official led three colleagues through the rubble from the charred building, one of them bleeding heavily from a wound on the side of his head.
One of the four, who identified himself only as Tony, said they had begun moving toward the rear of the Chinese restaurant after a first, small blast and that the second explosion threw them against the back wall.
"Then we saw a big truck coming to the gates," he said. "After that, it was just smoke and darkness."
Ambulances rushed to the area, picking their way through the charred carcasses of vehicles that had been in the street outside. Windows in buildings hundreds of yards away were shattered. Tropical fish from the tanks inside lay among the torn furnishings in the entrance area.
Police sought in vain to shoo away bystanders and reporters for fear of gas leaks and that the building might collapse. Army engineers used a crane to lift heavy slabs of rubble.
Well after midnight, some 20 fire crews were still trying to get the flames, which had spread to the rear of the building, under control.
Mohammed Ali, an emergency service official, said that after an initial chaotic search to find survivors, rescue teams had only been able to make two brief forays into the hotel. He said they had found neither bodies nor survivors and had to retreat quickly.
"The fire has eaten the entire building," he said.
In his speech to Parliament earlier Saturday, Zardari vowed not to let terrorists use Pakistani territory. However, he also warned that the government would not allow "any power" to violate Pakistan's sovereignty _ a reference to U.S. strikes across the border from Afghanistan that Pakistan warns will achieve little except fanning Islamic extremism.
Pakistan has faced a wave of militant violence in recent weeks following army-led offensives against insurgents in its volatile northwest.
The usually tranquil capital has witnessed its share of attacks in recent years.
In July, a suicide bombing killed at least 18 people, mostly members of the security forces, and injured dozens in Islamabad as supporters of the Red Mosque gathered nearby to mark the anniversary of the military siege on the militant stronghold.
In June, a suicide car bomber killed at least six people near the Danish Embassy in apparent retaliation over the publication in Denmark of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
In mid-March, a bomb explosion at an Italian restaurant killed a Turkish woman in the capital and wounded 12 others, including four FBI officials.
IntelCenter, a group which monitors al-Qaida communications, said senior al-Qaida leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, who claimed responsibility for the Danish Embassy bombing, threatened attacks against Western interests in Pakistan in a video timed to the recent anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
__
Associated Press Writers Stephen Graham, Nahal Toosi, Zarar Khan and Munir Ahmad contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-19 05:38 GMT+08:00