Terrorist bomb in Pakistan intended to destroy Marriott hotel
September 22, 2008
Pakistan Bomb That Killed 53 Aimed to Destroy Hotel (Update1)
By James Rupert
Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The truck bomb that killed 53 people in the Pakistani capital Islamabad yesterday tried to smash its way through the Marriott hotel's entry barricades in a bid to bring the building down, security camera footage showed.
The security gates kept the truck from entering the compound and causing more casualties than the 53 people who lost their lives in the blast, said Rehman Malik, senior adviser to the interior ministry, at a press conference in Islamabad today.
Two Americans, a Vietnamese woman and the Czech ambassador to Pakistan were among the dead, he said.
The speeding truck, loaded with at least 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of explosive, swerved into the gate and burned for several minutes before detonating, according to a video shown by Malik at the briefing. Guards scattered when the truck rammed the barrier, and again moments later when a small explosion ignited a fire in the cab.
The driver's actions and the size of the bomb indicated that the attacker meant to ram the truck into the building and pull down the six-story structure, Malik said. When the truck's main charge erupted, the blast shattered the facade and interior, and ignited fires that gutted the building. Hundreds of guests and hotel staff escaped when the building failed to collapse.
During several minutes while the truck burned, a lone security guard approached with a fire extinguisher and tried to put out the blaze. It was not clear whether, if he had succeeded, the massive explosion that followed might have been averted.
The truck was packed with high-grade TNT, trinitrotoluene, or RDX, cyclotrimethylene-trinitramine, a military explosive, said Malik, as well as mortar bombs, artillery shells and an incendiary aluminum powder. He described the bomb as the biggest ever used in a terrorist attack in Pakistan.
Malik said the investigation is at too early a stage to say who committed the attack "but previously, all the investigations, all the roads have led to South Waziristan and to Tehrik-i- Taliban," the main Pakistani Taliban movement.
South Waziristan is the stronghold of Taliban commander Baitullah Mahsud, whose guerrillas fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and whom Pakistan blames for numerous suicide bombings, including the December assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Pakistan says Mahsud is a senior al-Qaeda figure, and the CIA said this year that Waziristan has become a new base for al-Qaeda. No group has claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack. The previous suicide car-bombing in Islamabad, against the Danish embassy in June, was claimed by al-Qaeda.
Malik rebuffed a U.S. offer for FBI help in investigating the attack.
"We reject it," he said. "Our agencies are quite competent."
The attack came hours after President Asif Ali Zardari pledged to resist recent incursions into Waziristan and other border areas by U.S. forces in Afghanistan battling Mahsud and his allies. Zardari spoke in his first speech to parliament since succeeding Pervez Musharraf on Sept. 9.
The U.S. Embassy gave no confirmation of Malik's report of two U.S. citizens killed. The other foreigners killed were Czech ambassador Ivo Zdarek, who had recently arrived to take up his post, and a Vietnamese woman accompanying him, Malik said.
The 290-room Marriot, located a kilometer (0.6 mile) from Pakistan's parliament, presidency and ministries, was hit by smaller bombs in 2004 and 2007.
U.S. President George W. Bush vowed to "fully support the democratically elected government of Pakistan and the Pakistani people as they face enormous challenges economically as well as from terrorism," in his condemnation of the attack.
Bush is to meet Zardari on Sept. 23 during the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
The attack may heighten long-running tensions between Pakistan and the United States over how aggressively to use military force against the Taliban and their allies.
It "will create more of a disconnect in terms of how the U.S. looks at terrorism in Pakistan and how Pakistan looks at it," Hassan Abbas, a former security official and now a researcher on Pakistani politics at Harvard University, said by telephone.
"The U.S. will see terrorism in Pakistan getting stronger and will think if Pakistan can't control it then they will take control of it," Abbas said. "Pakistan will be thinking that U.S. involvement over the past years has led to this reaction." http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601091&sid=aXrwOZ9BhAe4&refer=india