Forum Director & Omnipotent Overlord
- Oct 9, 1999
Perhaps this will help force the Pakistani government to confront the militants in Waziristan, or at least give them some domestic political cover to let us go get them.ISLAMABAD, Pakistan ? A huge truck bomb exploded at the entrance to the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday evening, just a few hundred yards from the prime minister?s house, where all the leaders of government were dining after the president?s address to Parliament.
The blast, one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan?s history, killed at least 40 people and wounded more than 100, including foreigners. The toll was expected to grow because of reports that many people had been trapped inside the six-story hotel, which has been a favorite meeting spot of both foreigners and well-connected Pakistanis in the heart of the capital. The building was quickly engulfed in flames and continued to burn for hours Saturday night.
Although recent terrorist bombings have claimed more lives, a bombing at the Marriott, which has been attacked twice before but never on this scale, has shaken Pakistanis to their core.
?The Marriott is an icon,? said Abdullah Riar, a former aide to Benazir Bhutto. ?It?s like the twin towers of Pakistan. It?s a symbolic place in the capital of the country, and now it has melted down.?
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Pakistan has faced a wave of violence as militants opposed to the government?s alliance with the United States have become more secure in their base in the tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan. Militant attacks, including suicide bombings and truck bombs, have increased in the wake of a recent Pakistani army offensive in the tribal areas.
Coming after a bombing in Kabul earlier this year at the Serena Hotel, another gathering spot for foreigners, the Marriott attack appears to send a message not just to Pakistan but to Washington and other Western governments.
In Washington, a White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said: "The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack that took place in Islamabad, Pakistan. The United States will stand with Pakistan's democratically elected government as they confront this challenge."
The Federal Burean of Investigation offered to send special agents to help investigate the scene of the attack, and to try to determine the driver of the vehicle, and the kind of explosives used, a senior American official said.
The F.B.I. was awaiting approval from the Pakistani government before dispatching the agents, perhaps as many as 15, the official said. The bureau had offered to help investigate the major suicide bomb attack at the Federal Investigative Agency building in Lahore last year but the offer was rejected, the official said.
The bureau has a special interest in investigating the scene at the Marriott because this was "obviously an anti-American effort and a warning to the Pakistanis about the U.S. alliance," the official said.
The bomb left a vast crater, some 40 feet wide and 5 feet deep, lay at the security barrier to the hotel. Witnesses said security guards and their gate posts were buried under a mound of rubble. A line of cars across the street from the hotel were mangled and trees on the street were charred. Windows in buildings hundreds of yards away were shattered.
Witnesses said they dragged out dozens of bodies from the lobby of the hotel and an adjacent parking lot, including those of a number of foreigners.
The choice of target, where many Americans stay, brings into sharp relief, like few others could, Pakistan's alliance with the United States. Recent surveys have shown that the Pakistani public holds a very low opinion of American policy, and that many people call into question the alliance with the United States that was forged after 9/11 by former President Pervez Musharraf.
A prominent Pakistani lawyer, Athar Minallah, said: "It's the 9/11 for Pakistan. It's an attack on Pakistan, an attack on the people of Pakistan."
Mr. Minallah, a leader of the lawyers' movement that protested against the rule of President Pervez Musharraf, said the extremists "have crossed the limits."
"There cannot be any justification for this," he said. "It is for the people of Pakistan to join hands and sort out this menace. They are enemies of Pakistan."
One wounded American who works at the embassy here in the capital said he had just opened his car door in the parking lot when the explosion erupted. The American, who gave only his first name, Chris, said he had received injuries to his face, neck and shoulder, and was holding a bloody T-shirt to his face.
He said American Embassy personnel were at the scene, trying to help American citizens they said were trapped in the hotel.
Amjad Ali Khan, a guard on duty at a side entrance to the hotel, said he saw four to five bodies in the hotel parking lot and that he helped carry out 40 bodies from inside the hotel. He said they were ?in the lobby and in the restaurant and everywhere.?
?There were very few people injured,? he said. ?They were all dead.? He said he saw three Western women who had died from head wounds.
?They are terrorists,? he said when asked who he thought was responsible for the blast. ?They threatened a few days ago. We heard there were four to five suicide bombers on the loose.?
The Marriott, a favorite place for foreigners to stay and gather, has been attacked by militants at least twice in the past, including a suicide attack in January 2007 that killed a policeman.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, and its exact cause was unclear.
But Pakistan, an ally of the United States in the fight against terrorism, has faced a wave of militant violence in recent weeks following army-led offensives against militants in its border regions, though the capital has avoided most of the bloodshed.