At least 40 people were killed on Saturday in a suspected suicide car bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the city’s police chief reported. “A car laden with explosives rammed the gate at the Marriott and so far we have brought out 40 dead bodies, but the number could well be higher,” police chief Asghar Raza Gardazi said.
The hotel was badly damaged and caught fire after the blast, which destroyed dozens of cars outside and shattered windows and damaged buildings hundreds of metres (yards) away.
Hours before the blast President Asif Ali Zardari, making his first address to parliament, several hundred metres to the east of the hotel, said terrorism had to be rooted out.
Police at the scene said 20 bodies had been taken away and people were still trapped inside. A crane was brought in to try to get people out.
Fire began in at least two places in the building and spread to other parts of the 290-room hotel, located at the foot of the Margalla hills in the city centre. There was a large crater in the road by the hotel’s heavy security barriers.
The street was littered with debris and broken branches from roadside trees and acrid smoke drifted in the air.
The blast brought down the ceiling in a banquet room where there were about 200 to 300 people at a meal to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan, Imtiaz Gul, a journalist, was among them. “We just ran for cover, I could see a lot of injured people lying around me,” Gul said.
The hotel, popular with foreigners, has been bombed twice before but the Saturday evening blast was the most serious in the Pakistani capital since the country joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy in late 2001.
Al Qaida-linked militants based in sanctuaries in the Afghan border have launched a bloody campaign of bomb attacks in retaliation for offensives by the security forces.
Zardari, the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is close to the United States and had earlier vowed to maintain nuclear-armed Pakistan’s commitment to the US-led campaign against militancy, even though it is deeply unpopular.
In his address to parliament, he said Pakistan must stop militants from using its territory for attacks on other countries. He also said Pakistan would not tolerate infringement of its territory in the name of the fight against militancy.
Zardari won a presidential election this month to replace firm US ally Pervez Musharraf who stepped down in August under threat of impeachment. Zardari is close to the United States and had earlier vowed to maintain nuclear-armed Pakistan’s commitment to the US-led campaign against militancy, even though it is deeply unpopular.