South Asia News
50 killed in Pakistan blast, death toll expected to rise (3rd Roundup)
Sep 20, 2008, 20:15 GMT
Islamabad - At least 50 people were killed and around 200, including some foreigners, injured Saturday in an apparent suicide bomb attack on the five-star Marriott hotel in Pakistan's capital Islamabad.
Witnesses said a vehicle approached the main entrance of the hotel and blew up at about 7:30 pm local time (1330 GMT), severely damaging the five-story building, where hundreds of people had been staying.
Islamabad police chief Asghar Raza Gardezi confirmed that 50 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the blast. He warned the death toll could rise drastically as many of the injured were in critical condition.
A number of people, including children, also appeared to be trapped in the building, which is located in a high-security zone little more than a kilometre from the residencies of Pakistan's prime minister and president.
An eyewitness told Geo news channel that a car stopped near the security barrier at the main entrance of the hotel and a person came out, telling the security guards that they had three minutes to run away from the site.
The man then drove away and minutes later a truck hit the security barrier. A small explosion apparently triggered other explosives which then caused a massive blast that left a crater about 9 metres deep.
A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the deadly vehicle was a truck loaded with around a ton of explosives.
The blast was so heavy that people were blown off chairs in buildings more than half a kilometre away, and the glass windows of several buildings shattered.
Four of the five stories of the hotel caught fire after the blast, which could be heard kilometres away.
People were trapped in the gutted building and fire brigade vehicles were trying to extinguish the blaze. Military troops were also called in to assist the relief efforts.
'Two children were seen crying for help from a window in the top floor. But minutes later, before the fire brigade could start working, smoke and fire spread everywhere. Those children are not sighted any more,' a reporter for the DawnNews channel said.
The owner of the hotel, a Mr Hashwani, said many of the guests had been evacuated through the rear entrance but some remained trapped.
The blast created panic at the prime minister's house, where Premier Yousaf Raza Gilani was hosting a dinner to break the Ramadan fast. President Asif Ali Zardari and military chief Ishfaq Parvez Kayani were also among the guests, DawnNews reported.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, but Taliban militants based in the country's tribal areas along the Afghan border have carried out a series of suicide bombings across Pakistan over the past 18 months.
The blast occurred on the same day on which the country's new president Zardari vowed before parliament to 'root out terrorism and extremism' in Pakistan.
Aaj news channel reported that seven foreigners were among those killed. A medical officer at Islamabad's Polyclinic said three injured US and Danish diplomats were being treated there.
The German Foreign Ministry confirmed six German nationals were slightly wounded, but said it was not certain that no German nationals were killed.
'The (German) foreign office is pursuing all indications. However, so far we cannot confirm that there are any German fatalities,' a German foreign ministry spokeswoman told dpa.
One Danish diplomat was officially confirmed injured by the Danish foreign ministry, which said several Danes had been staying at the hotel. Local hospital sources corrected earlier Pakistani media reports that had said one Dane was among the dead. A Danish person was still being treated in a local hospital, medical sources told dpa.
The Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan, Ali Awadh Asseri, said 16 Saudi nationals were in the hotel at the time and four to six of them remained missing.
The Marriott bombing was the third suspected militant attack on Saturday. Earlier, a car suicide bomber targeted a military convoy in the tribal district of North Waziristan at around 11:30 am (0530 GMT), killing three soldiers and three civilians, army spokesman Major Murad Khan told dpa.
Around six hours later, a roadside bomb explosion hit another army convoy in the neighboring South Waziristan district, leaving two soldiers dead.
A defense analyst and retired army general Talat Masood said the Taliban wanted to convey the very clear message to the government that 'this is our power. We can reach anytime anywhere, even in the most secured areas.'
'This is terrorism and we have to fight it together as a nation,' Rehman Malik, security advisor to Prime Minister Gilani told reporters at the blast scene in Islamabad. He linked the attack with the ongoing military operation and said the offensive against the insurgents would continue.
'This is the 9/11 of Pakistan and a desperate effort to terrorize people in which lives of innocent people are lost,' said Law Minister Farooq Naek, whose official residence was also partially damaged by the blast.
The European Union condemned the bombing and expressed sympathy with the relatives of the victims.
A statement from the EU Presidency, currently held by France, said the EU would 'more than ever stand side by side' with Pakistan in its struggle against terrorism.