Death toll in Pakistan hotel blast rises to 16

June 10th, 2009 - 1:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, June 10 (DPA) The death toll from a suicide car bombing at a luxury hotel in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar rose Wednesday to 16, which included two foreign UN officials and a Spanish national, while up to 60 people were injured, a police official said.
Three suicide attackers in a pickup truck entered the Pearl Continental Hotel late Tuesday after shooting the security guards and rammed the explosives-laden vehicle into its main building.

“Three more bodies were found this morning, taking the death toll to 16,” police spokesman Daud Jan said over telephone. “More than 60 people are injured.”

“The casualty count might rise as some people are still believed to be trapped under the rubble,” he said. A part of the hotel collapsed in the blast.

Two foreign staff members of the United Nations - Aleksander Vorkapic from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Perseveranda So from UNICEF - were among the dead. Four other foreign staffers also suffered injuries, a UN spokeswoman in Islamabad said.

The police spokesman said another victim was identified as a Spanish national, but he did not give his name.

Shafqatullah Malik - deputy police chief in North West Frontier Province, of which Peshawar is the capital - confirmed the attack was a suicide bombing.

“Three attackers in a pickup truck opened fire at the guards when the vehicle was stopped for a routine search at the security barrier,” Malik said. “Then the driver sped the vehicle in, slammed it in the building and detonated the explosives.”

Initial investigations hinted that the attackers used more than 500 kg of high-intensity explosives, Malik added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack as an action “which no cause can justify”, according to a statement from the world body.

UNICEF said in a statement that Perseveranda was the organisation’s chief of education in Pakistan.

“She was in Peshawar, a dangerous and difficult environment, helping implement programmes to assist girls in gaining access to the education they so desperately need,” the statement said.

“This is an attack on the very humanitarian principles to which Persy was dedicated, and it is reprehensible and unacceptable,” it said.

The car bombing was the latest in a series of attacks carried out by militants in recent weeks to avenge a military operation against their comrades elsewhere in the province.

Pakistan launched a concerted campaign in the Swat Valley and its neighbouring districts in late April to rout Islamist insurgents who moved into neighbouring districts after being emboldened by a peace pact under which the government introduced strict sharia, or Islamic, law in parts of the province.

Vast support from local political parties and the local population has encouraged the government to push on with its offensive, but a mass exodus of refugees and an ensuing humanitarian crisis are threatening a change in opinion.

More than 2.5 million people have fled the fighting since May 2. They have been taken in by family and camps run by the government with the support of UN agencies.

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