21 Foreigners Among Dead in Islamabad Suicide Bomb Blast
Monday, September 22, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 21 -- Pakistani officials said Sunday that 21 foreigners, including two Americans stationed at the U.S. Embassy, were among the victims of a massive suicide truck bombing Saturday night that destroyed a luxury Marriott hotel in the capital.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani said the bomber's intended target was Gillani's official residence a block from the hotel, where newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari and other officials were gathered to break their daily Ramadan fast when the bomb exploded about 8 p.m.
"The purpose was to destabilize democracy," Gillani said.
As rescue teams combed the still-smoldering five-story building, officials put the death toll at 53, with an unknown number of people unaccounted for. At least 266 people were injured. Most of the victims were hotel workers.
A spokesman for the Pentagon in Washington said Sunday that the two Americans killed in the blast were members of the U.S. defense forces assigned to the U.S. Embassy here. Their names were not released.
Pakistani officials said a contingent of 30 U.S. Marines was thought to be staying in the 290-room hotel.
A senior government security adviser, Rehman Malik, pointed the finger at Islamist militant groups based in South Waziristan, a volatile tribal area near the border with Afghanistan. These groups have vowed to retaliate against the government for stepped-up military raids and for a series of U.S. military incursions in pursuit of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
"All roads lead to South Waziristan and Tehrik-e-Taliban," Malik said, referring to a militant group headed by Baitullah Mehsud, who has repeatedly vowed to attack the government after a truce with his forces collapsed last year.
Malik showed journalists a dramatic video of the attack, in which a large dump truck rammed into a metal barrier near the hotel and caught fire. The video showed guards scattering, trying to put out the blaze, and scattering again when the driver kept going, detonating the huge blast.
Marriott said in a statement Saturday that several hotel guards who had gone out to examine the truck were among the dead.
The truck had been packed with 1,300 pounds of military explosives, mortars and other weapons, Malik said. The bombing was timed to coincide with the fast-breaking meal, when guards were eating and likely to be distracted.
Malik said the attack was intended to destroy the hotel, a center of social and political life in the Pakistani capital and a frequent choice of foreign visitors. The ambassador from the Czech Republic was among the dead, officials said.