A suicide car bomber attacked the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Saturday, killing at least 60 people and turning the hotel into an inferno, police said.
<b1>In what is being described as Pakistan’s worst suicide bomb attack, a truck carrying over 1,000 kilograms of explosives rammed into the main lobby of one of the hotel.
The attack took place at around 7.55 pm when almost 300 guests were engaged in Iftaar within the hotel’s main restaurant on the ground floor.
The explosion created a crater 25 ft deep and 30 ft wide, totally destroyed the road in front of the building and sparked a fire that engulfed about two-thirds of the 290-room hotel.
Rescuers ferried a stream of bloodied bodies from the gutted structure, which was in danger of collapsing.
Police sought in vain to shoo away bystanders and reporters for fear of gas leaks that might trigger more blasts.
The owner of the hotel said the vehicle carrying the bomb was stopped at the front barrier and was being checked by guards after a bomb-sniffing dog raised the alarm.
“The guard dog alerted them and when they started searching the vehicle the man blew himself up,” the owner, Sadruddin Hashwani, told reporters outside the hotel.
Emergency was declared in all local hospitals and de-facto interior minister, Rehman Malik, said that the government had received warnings of a suicide attack two days back. Security in the federal capital was on high alert owing to the joint session of parliament, which was held earlier in the day nearly a kilometre away from the hotel at the Parliament House.
Local journalist Imtiaz Gul who was inside the hotel at the time of the blast said that there were a series of blasts in quick succession and then the sound was so loud that he temporarily lost his hearing. “I was having Iftaar with a couple of friends when the blast occurred. Thank God, we were in the rear area of the hotel where the full impact of the blast did not reach.”
The Marriott is a favourite place for foreigners as well as Pakistani politicians and business people to stay and socialise, despite repeated militant attacks. It served as the de facto back office for the international media during the 2001 war against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Dozens of cars outside the hotel were destroyed and windows were shattered in buildings hundreds of metres away.
Al Qaeda-linked militants based in hideouts in the Afghan border have launched a bloody campaign of bomb attacks in retaliation for offensives by the security forces.