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Bombing Is Marriott's Biggest Loss In 81 Years

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By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 21, 2008

As a symbol of Western capitalism around the world, Marriott International's hotels have been hit by terrorists before.

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A bomber killed more than a dozen people in 2003 at the firm's JW Marriott in Jakarta. A hotel was destroyed in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, leaving two employees dead. And in January 2007, a suicide bomber detonated a device outside the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing a security guard who thwarted his entry to the hotel.

But when terrorists returned yesterday to the Marriott in Islamabad, setting off a truck bomb that killed at least 60 people, they dealt the Bethesda, Md., firm its worst loss of life and property in its 81-year history. Employees and guests drenched in blood streamed into city streets. The building's simple red Marriott logo was shown going up in flames on cable television. Chief executive Bill Marriott said in a blog post yesterday evening that many of those killed were employees.

Marriott was alerted to the explosion within minutes by Kathleen Matthews, the company's executive vice president for global communications. On Marriott's blog, he said: "This senseless tragedy and the profound loss of life has left me greatly saddened. My heart goes out to those who've been injured and the families of the victims."

The attack, which destroyed the 290-room hotel, was a nightmare come true for the 76-year-old chief executive, who developed the company into one of the world's largest hotel chains. Marriott's son John, a former executive at the company, was once asked what kept his father up at night. He quickly answered, "Terrorism."

Company executives were making plans yesterday to quickly get to Pakistan. A team of senior executives, led by Ed Fuller, the president of international lodging, convened at headquarters and electronically from around the world to assess information from the scene and begin offering assistance to victims. A telephone hotline was activated so that victims' families could seek information. Marriott said on his blog that employees who were not seriously injured "are doing whatever they can to assist with rescue and recovery efforts."

The hotel, which opened in 1992 and is known for its tight security, has a fortified gate where vehicles are inspected and metal detectors at the entrance.

The attack comes at a tense time for the company, which like other hotel chains is struggling in the economic slowdown. Marriott's business has dropped off considerably, and an investment in the company made a year ago would be worth 36 percent less today. Marriott recently reduced weekend room rates by 20 percent.

Marriott executives have also been considering whether to open a hotel in Baghdad at the request of U.S. and Iraqi government officials hoping to revive Iraq with foreign investment and economic activity. Bill Marriott has not spoken publicly about the idea, but people close to him have said he is concerned about safety issues.


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