Friday, January 26, 2007

Bombing at Hotel in Pakistani Capital

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 26 — A man blew himself up today outside a major hotel used by government officials and foreign dignitaries, killing himself and a security guard, police and security officials said. Three other people were wounded.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The government put security forces on high alert across the country to guard against any follow-up attacks.

The bomb went off at 2:40 p.m. in an affluent section of the Pakistani capital, and seemed to demonstrate that extremists are able to readily mount attacks in what have been regarded as zones of high security.

Foreign visitors regularly stay at the hotel, the Marriot, and it is often the site of government and business conferences and functions. The residences of the prime minister and several cabinet ministers are nearby; so are the parliament complex and a number of embassies.

The United States embassy issued a caution to American citizens in Pakistan, saying it “strongly advises all Americans to avoid the area, exercise caution, and limit unnecessary travel.”

Government officials and witnesses said the suicide bomber, apparently a man in his 20s, tried to enter the hotel through a side entrance near the hotel’s parking area. “There is an emergency gate which is used by the employees of the hotel,” said Javed Iqbal Cheema, a retired army brigadier who heads the national crisis management office, in an interview at the site of the blast. “He wanted to make a forced entry into the hotel for himself. The guard, as a matter of fact, resisted entry into the gate and did not allow him to get inside. On seeing that he can’t make his entry, he blew himself up.”

Mr. Cheema said the police had not yet established how the bomber traveled to the hotel, saying only that he was on foot as he approached the entrance.

Police officials said that the bomber’s head and upper body were obliterated in the explosion, leaving little intact for forensic scientists to examine other than parts of lower limbs.

The blast also shattered the window glass of several vehicles parked nearby.

No guests of the hotel were harmed, according to a statement by the district magistrate’s office. But three hotel employees were injured; they were sent to the Poly Clinic hospital for treatment.

Pakistani officials said it was too early to say who might have planned the attack. Local militants and Al Qaeda-related groups have assailed Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, since he allied the country with the United States in fighting terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks. But multinational chains like Marriott and Sheraton hotels and KFC and McDonalds restaurants have also been frequent targets.

“One should not speculate whether it’s a reprisal or a continuation of what is going in this country and region,” Mr. Cheema said. “I think it is only when we get into the investigation and get some leads that we can say anything.”

Even so, Syed Kamal Shah, the interior secretary, said there was no sectarian motive to the attack, and said it was a simple act of terrorism. “It is certainly not aimed at creating disturbance on the eve of Ashura,” Mr. Shah told the state-run news agency.

Ashura is the preeminent religious event of the year for Shiite Muslims, commemorating the death of one of the sect’s founding martyrs, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein. Tensions between extremist Shiites and extremist Sunnis often run high around Ashura, which falls this year on Jan. 29 and Jan. 30.

President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz each condemned the attack at the hotel and said they were resolved to fight terrorism.

In October 2004, an explosion at the entrance to the same Marriott hotel injured five people, including an American diplomat. Officials said at the time that it was an accident, caused by an electrical short circuit, and not related to terrorism.

No comments :