62 die as suicide bomber strikes Pakistani luxury hotel (Roundup)

September 21st, 2008 - 12:46 am ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Sep 20 (IANS) A suicide bomber drove a truck packed with explosives into the Marriott Hotel in the heart of the Pakistani capital Saturday evening, killing at least 62 people including foreigners and setting ablaze one of the best known hubs of the country’s elite.The devastating attack, one of the worst even by the standards of increasingly lawless Pakistan, took place just a kilometer from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s house where President Asif Ali Zardari, army chief General Ashfar Parvez Kayani and over 300 MPs were at an Iftar dinner.

Authorities said at least 120 people were injured, many suffering extensive burns, in the terror strike that sent orange flames and thick smoke billowing out of the hotel.

And what was a bloody disaster turned worse as gas lines running to the hotel’s kitchen exploded and a huge ball of fire quickly enveloped the hotel.

In no time, a number of vehicles in the hotel’s sprawling car park were reduced to twisted and mangled remains. Many feared that the hotel, a landmark and a preferred destination for diplomats and businessmen, could simply collapse.

With the roar of the exploding truck heard in a radius of 15 km, security personnel, ambulances and rescue workers raced to the burning hotel to rescue who they could and rush them to hospitals across the city.

The explosion left a 20-foot deep crater at the entrance.

Police sources said the dead include three South Koreans, two Saudis and one American. There were also foreigners among the injured.

Dazed witnesses said the explosives-laden truck, bearing government number plates, was stopped at the hotel entrance for a routine security check.

“As the security people were looking into the truck, it swiftly moved away and hit the outer wall of the hotel, causing a huge explosion,” one man said.

Hotel owner Sadruddin Hashwani was grief stricken as he spoke to reporters outside the hotel complex: “I don’t have any enemies… These must be enemies of Pakistan. This is a huge loss to the country, to humanity.”

He confirmed that five security guards who were checking the truck were among the dead.

Hotel sources said at least 300 people were dining when the earth-shattering blast took place 7.56 p.m., some 40 minutes after sunset when people break the Ramadan fast.

The explosion occurred four hours after President Zardari addressed a joint sitting of both houses of parliament, calling for joint efforts to deal with terrorism and extremism.

The blast was so massive that many Islamabad residents thought an earthquake had struck. The windows of buildings in the vicinity were blown apart.

The authorities declared an emergency in Islamabad hospitals.

“The fire has engulfed the whole hotel and people are being rescued,” Rehman Malik, an advisor to the prime minister, said at the disaster site.

Security officials said several people residing in the hotel were trapped inside.

Hospital sources said they had received about 40 bodies and more than 100 injured. However, witnesses said the number of dead was over 60 and more than 120 were injured.

As the truck bomb exploded, crockery came crashing at the prime minister’s house, where dignitaries were seated around tables on the lawns of the sprawling mansion.

In no time, security personnel herded the VVIPs to safety.

Some officials said the intended destination of the killer truck might have been the prime minister’s house.

After a suicide attack in January last year, the hotel had increased its security and huge boulders were put outside the boundary wall. The wall was reinforced and a second layer of heavy boulders was placed before the hotel building.

The hotel also deployed sniffer dogs.

“In fact the dogs started barking after seeing the truck,” said owner Hashwani.

The hotel has hosted several world leaders including former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

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