11 dead, 56 wounded in Pakistan hotel blast (Third Lead)

June 10th, 2009 - 3:33 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Peshawar, June 10 (DPA) At least 11 people, including an UN official, were killed and 56 others wounded Tuesday after a huge explosion ripped through the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), officials said.
The blast partially demolished the building, which is located near a military base and an important government building in a high-security zone.

“There are around 11 deaths but these (numbers) are not final, we are recovering more bodies,” NWFP deputy police chief Shafqat Malik told Geo television. He said 56 people were wounded and that it was a car bombing.

Among the dead was an UN official, and at least 16 UN employees were among the wounded.

Russian national Alexander Joseph, who worked for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was reportedly killed in the blast, according to Geo television. Two UN employees were said to be missing.

Geo television also reported that a provincial minister and a member of the national parliament were among the injured.

Some people were still trapped in the upper stories of the hotel building that caught fire following the blast. “The firefighters are trying to extinguish the fire while some people can be heard calling for help from the fourth floor,” witness Ghulam Mohammad told DPA.

He said that two vehicles approached the main gate of the hotel, when gunmen from one car opened fire at security personnel, the other car drove past towards the hotel.

“After the firing that continued for around five minutes there was a huge blast,” Mohammad said.

The DPA correspondent on the scene said some UN vehicles parked at the hotel were damaged in the blast.

Geo television reported - citing relief workers - that the bodies of three foreign nationals were recovered from the hotel.

The Pearl Continental is popular with dignitaries, UN officials and foreign journalists.

“I was at the mosque when the blast took place. There are many people lying in the mosque. There are also many people lying in the Marco Polo Hall,” a witness told the news channel.

The attack is the latest in the series of bombings that Taliban militants have carried out to avenge the ongoing military offensive in NWFP’s Swat valley and three neighbouring districts.

The military launched the Swat operation in April after the rebels failed to observe the terms of a peace deal.

NWFP’s senior minister Bashir Bilour said such “atrocious actions” will not deter his government from eliminating “terrorists and extremists”.

“We will continue this operation unless the terrorism ends,” he said.

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