Bombed Marriott still burns, death toll 46September 21st, 2008 - 4:34 pm ICT by IANS
Islamabad, Sep 21 (IANS) A day after a suicide bomber rammed its front with a truck packed with explosives, what remains of the Marriott Hotel here continued to burn Sunday morning, with officials putting the death toll at 46 with 230 people, including foreigners, injured.Some 300 fire fighters, Civil Defence volunteers as well as paramilitary and military personnel battled the blaze through the night and were Sunday trying to put out the fire on the top floor of the five-storey hotel. Some officials had said late Saturday that 62 people died in the terror attack.
A brief rainfall in the morning did not help matters. Once the shower stopped, the fire almost re-ignited, making the task of fire fighters all the more difficult.
One official admitted that it was near impossible to go beyond the second floor because of the sheer heat and that more people may be trapped - dead or barely alive - in the upper portion of the now wrecked hotel.
Security forces sealed off the road facing the hotel’s front and stopped journalists from entering it, warning that there was a real possibility of the building coming crashing down.
“We are unable to go to the upper floors because of the high temperature,” Amjad, a visibly tired rescue worker from the Pakistan Army, told IANS at the spot.
He said five bodies were Sunday retrieved from the second floor, including one of a foreigner.
A suicide bomber, driving a truck with government number plates, hit the luxury hotel - a favourite of the Pakistani elite besides foreigners - Saturday evening and exploded it when a large number of people were dining at the end of the day’s Ramadan fast.
The shattering explosion, heard in a radius of 15 km, destroyed a large portion of the hotel in no time and set the building on fire. Cars in the parking lot as well as drivers and guards in the front portion bore the brunt of the blast.
No group has owned responsibility for the attack. But US diplomats were quick to link it to Al Qaeda.
Several buildings near the hotel were badly damaged. Windows of these buildings were blown out and lay scattered all around the area. All rooms of the Frontier House across the Marriott were badly damaged.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani set up a committee headed by Tariq Pervez, director general of the Federal Investigative Agency, to probe the attack.
Interior ministry secretary Kamal Shah, who visited the site early Sunday, said about 1,000 kg explosives were packed in the killer truck.
The police have registered a case against unidentified people and announced a Rs.10 million ($140,000) reward for information about the attackers.
There appears to be no exact figure about the number of people present in the hotel when the blast took place. Some employees say about 300 people were having an Iftar dinner and there were also more than 200 guests.
The blast also caused a 30 foot deep crater at the main entrance. The explosion damaged the main gas pipeline leading to the hotel, triggering a massive fire. The hotel’s false roofing was the first to collapse.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Zubair Sheikh told IANS that 41 people had been killed and 200 injured. But hospital sources put the figure at 46.
Sheikh said the dead and injured included foreign nationals but he refused to give their nationality.
He said some suspects had been arrested and were being questioned.
A list of bodies at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) included the name of Rod Loaf, who the hospital identified as an American. The doctors said American embassy officials had taken the body.
The PIMS staff told IANS that 23 bodies and 105 injured were brought to the hospital after the blast. They said 23 injured were allowed to go home after first aid while the condition of 28 was serious.
A doctor said three paramilitary officials were also brought to the hospital.
Doctors at the Federal Services Hospital said five bodies and 111 injured were brought to the hospital. They said 20 people were in serious condition.
The injured, doctors said, include German, Moroccan and Syrian nationals.
Some of the bodies and injured were also taken to the Benazir Bhutto Hospital in nearby Rawalpindi. Bashir Malik, a doctor, said nine injured had been admitted to the hospital and one had died.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who left Sunday morning to the US to address the UN General Assembly session, said in a message released through state-run PTV that the attackers could not be Muslims or Pakistanis.
“I urge upon the nation to make this your strength and we will together root out this menace,” said Zardari.