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‘Suicide blast’ at top hotel in Islamabad

January 27, 2007

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ISLAMABAD, Jan 26: A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up outside a hotel here on Friday, killing a guard and causing serious injuries to five others. The unidentified man detonated explosives strapped to his body after the security guard tried to stop him from entering the Marriott Hotel through a side entrance.

“It was a suicide attack. The suicide attacker and a guard were killed,” Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said. “The attacker tried to enter the hotel and was stopped by the security guard and there was a scuffle and the blast occurred.”

He termed the bombing a failed attempt to kill people frequenting an upscale hotel. “A brave and timely action by the guards pre-empted a major attack.”

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the blast and ordered an inquiry.

Tariq Mehmmod, the 37-year-old guard from Chakwal, had joined the hotel less than a year ago. He left behind two children.

Windscreens of several cars were damaged while the wall of the building was besmirched with blood and pieces of flesh.

The suicide bombing happened hours before a Republic Day function at the hotel hosted by India’s High Commission. The function went ahead after the explosion. And a meeting of defence officials from the United States, Afghanistan and Turkey had taken place before the attack.

As soon as the sound of the blast shook the five-star hotel, guests poured out of the building. “There was a big bang. We rushed out in panic. There was chaos. Blood and flesh were strewn on the road,” an eyewitness said.

Another eyewitness said he had a narrow escape as the windscreen of his car smashed into his face seconds after the explosion. “I had just turned into the street when the explosion happened. Scared and not knowing what had happened, I reversed my car onto the main road.”

At first the hotel’s security staff tried to take things into their own hands, but withdrew after the arrival of a police contingent. The police immediately cordoned off the area and started collecting body parts scattered over a large area.

Interior Secretary Kamal Shah had no hesitation in admitting that the blast was a `security lapse’, but said people should also realise that `it is extremely difficult to prevent suicide attacks at public places’.

Mr Shah told Dawn that a team comprising a special unit of the FIA and other intelligence agencies had started investigations.

Investigators said they had no idea why the bomber tried to enter the hotel from the side entrance, which is either used in emergency or by the hotel staff.

Some were of the view that the attacker was either new to the city or was not sure if it would be easy to enter from the front door or the rear one.

The investigators have enlisted the help of two hotel employees in preparing an identikit of the bomber. They have also collected footage from the close-circuit cameras.

Agencies add: Terrified guests started leaving the hotel as soon as a semblance of normality returned to the site.

“A bang shook the building. It threw us out of our seats. There was chaos all over the place,” said a man who was eating at a restaurant inside the hotel.

A hotel guard said he was inside the parking lot when he heard the explosion.

“I rushed towards the guards' room in front of the entrance and saw limbs and blood. It was very bad,” said the visibly shaken man in his 40s, who identified himself as Zafar.

An unexplained blast in the hotel’s lobby in Oct 2004 injured a US diplomat and prompted the hotel to install tight security, including rigorous checks on cars and X-ray detectors for guests’ bags.

The US embassy said Americans should ‘avoid the area... and limit unnecessary travel’, while the British Foreign Office said in London its citizens should ‘avoid all restaurants and other areas frequented by westerners’.