Pakistan blast toll rises to 53, probe underway (Roundup)

September 21st, 2008 - 11:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Sep 21 (IANS) Pakistani authorities were desperately searching for vital leads as they investigated the devastating suicide bombing at a luxury hotel here Saturday that claimed at least 53 lives, but a top official Sunday refused to charge any outfit with the outrage.”I confirm 53 deaths and 266 injured in the sad incident which is the country’s worst ever terror attack,” Rehman Malik, advisor to the prime minister on internal affairs, told reporters in a press conference, a day after a truck bomb slammed into the five-star Marriott Hotel, the social hub of Islamabad’s elite.

Ivo Zdarek, the ambassador of the Czech Republic, and a colleague of his were also killed in the attack, as were two Americans.

Malik said the injured include 11 foreigners from the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

He said the investigations were under way and it would be premature to fix responsibility at this stage.

But “let me tell you that all roads lead to South Waziristan” where Taliban and Al Qaeda militants are active, the advisor added.

While no group has owned responsibility for the attack, US diplomats were quick to link it to Al Qaeda.

“We caught two suicide attackers last week and we had information that terrorists will strike in Islamabad. We had raised the security ahead of the president’s address (to a joint sitting of parliament Saturday),” Malik said, saying Saturday’s targeted attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who used a six-wheeled dumper meant to carry construction material.

“They used high-quality explosives. If the bomber had managed to reach the lobby of the hotel by breaking the glass wall, it could have led to much more damage,” Malik said.

Malik replied in the negative when asked if Pakistan would accept the US offer of help in the investigations. “We have our own experts and we trust them.”

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 declined to reveal their nationalities.

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 away.

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 for the US to address the UN General Assembly, 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.

Some 300 fire fighters, civil defence volunteers, as well as paramilitary and military personnel, battled the blaze through the night and Sunday worked to put out the fire on the top floor of the five-storey hotel building.

A brief shower in the morning did not help matters. Once the rain stopped, the fire almost re-ignited, making the task of fire fighters all the more difficult.

One official admitted 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.

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