Suicide Bombing Kills 34 in Pakistan as Marriott Hotel Reopens

By Sebastian Abbot
Associated Press
Monday, December 29, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 28 -- A suicide bomber pretending to need help with his car killed 34 people in northwest Pakistan on Sunday while the target of another attack, the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, partially reopened three months after a brazen truck bombing there left 54 dead.

The luxury hotel was devastated by the September blast -- blamed on a Pakistani militant group accused of killing U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 -- but renovations, a security overhaul and the addition of a giant, bombproof wall meant the hotel was ready to welcome guests again, the owner said.

"We have expressed our resolve that we will not bow before the enemies of Pakistan," owner Saddaruddin Hashwani said.

The suicide attack Sunday, at a polling station close to the Swat Valley, occurred as concern grows that extremist violence will spike now that Pakistan is shifting troops away from the region toward India. The military has not confirmed the troop movements, but it has restricted personnel leave, and reports said thousands of soldiers were being redeployed from the northwest -- where many al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists are based -- to the eastern border with India amid tensions over attacks in Mumbai last month.

India blames Pakistan-based extremists for the three-day assault on its commercial capital, which killed more than 170 people, and it has not ruled out force. But leaders of both nuclear-armed countries, which have fought three wars since 1947, insist they want to avoid another conflict.

Witnesses have reported large convoys moving troops away from the Afghan border in recent days. Two Pakistani intelligence officials said Friday that thousands of troops were being redeployed from the insurgent hot spot of Waziristan to towns close to the Indian border. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The targeted polling station was located in a school in Buner, a district bordering the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani army has waged an intermittent offensive against extremists for more than a year. The explosion wounded 14 people, five of them critically, said police official Beharmand Khan.

"The suicide attacker pulled his car outside the polling station and asked people to push the vehicle, saying that it had broken down," said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the province. "The moment people started pushing the car, he blew it up."

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