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Truck bomb guts Pakistan Marriott, at least 53 dead

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan`s prime minister says the death toll from the huge truck bombing of a luxury hotel in Pakistan`s capital has reached about 53.

More than 250 people were injured, including at least 21 foreigners, when a huge suicide truck bomb devastated the heavily guarded Marriott Hotel in Pakistan`s capital Saturday.

An injured man is shifted to a hospital after a bomb explosion at a hotel in Islamabad September 20, 2008. A suicide car bomber attacked the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Saturday, killing at least 53 people and turning the hotel into an inferno, police said. [Agencies]

Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani updated the toll after rescuers found more bodies in the charred shell of the Islamabad Marriott.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said the Czech ambassador to Pakistan was also among the dead.

One American citizen has also been confirmed dead.

The blast on Saturday evening shredded the hotel and triggered a fire that raged for hours through the building.

The blast left a vast crater some 30 feet (10 meters) deep in front of the main building. Rescuers ferried a stream of bloodied bodies from the gutted structure, then pulled back for fear that it could collapse. The fire was still burning at 2 a.m., six hours after the blast, sending up a thick pall of smoke over the area.

The bombing at the upscale hotel appeared to be one of the largest terrorist attacks ever in Pakistan and came at a time of growing anger over a wave of cross-border strikes on militant bases by US forces in Afghanistan.

The five-floor Marriott is a favorite place for foreigners as well as the Pakistani elite to stay and socialize, despite repeated militant attacks over the years.

Hospital staff and other officials said the 250 injured included four Britons, four Germans and one each from the US, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Libya, Lebanon and Afghanistan. The Saudi ambassador said several staff from the kingdom`s national airline were missing.

The bombing came just hours after President Asif Ali Zardari made his first address to Parliament, less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away from the hotel.

Zardari reappeared after midnight on state television to condemn the "cowardly attack."

He said he understood the victims` pain because he had buried his own wife, assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in December.

"Make this pain your strength," he said. "This is a menace, a cancer in Pakistan that we will eliminate. We will not be scared of these cowards," he said.

Law Minister Farooq Naek said the attack was Pakistan`s 9/11.

Rehman Malik, the head of the Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that it was unclear who was behind the attack and that there had been no claim of responsibility, but that authorities had received intelligence that there might be militant activity due to Zardari`s address to Parliament. Security had been tightened, he said.

Damage is seen at the Marriott Hotel after after a suicide attack, in Islamabad September 20, 2008. A suicide truck bomber attacked the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday, killing at least 53 people, wounding nearly 250 and starting a fire that swept through the building in the Pakistani capital.  [Agencies]

Witnesses said they saw a large truck drive up to the fortified main gate of the hotel at about 8 p.m. (1400 GMT), when its restaurants would have been packed with diners, including Muslims breaking the Ramadan fast.

Mohammed Asghar, a worker from a nearby office with a makeshift bandage round his head, said there was more than one man in the truck and that they had argued with the hotel guards.

"Then, there was a flash of light, the truck caught fire and then exploded with an enormous bang," he said.

Senior police official Asghar Raza Gardaizi estimated that the blast, which reverberated throughout Islamabad, was caused by more than 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of explosives.

In the pandemonium that followed, AP reporters saw at least nine dead bodies at the scene. Scores of people ran or staggered from the building, many of them bloodied and covered in dust.

A US State Department official led three colleagues through the rubble from the charred building, one of them bleeding heavily from a wound on the side of his head.

One of the four, who identified himself only as Tony, said they had begun moving toward the rear of the Chinese restaurant after a first, small blast and that the second explosion threw them against the back wall.

"Then we saw a big truck coming to the gates," he said. "After that, it was just smoke and darkness."

Pakistani security officials search for clues inside the crater created after a bomb explosion in front of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad September 20, 2008. A suicide truck bomber attacked the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday, killing at least 53 people, wounding nearly 250 and starting a fire that swept through the building in the Pakistani capital. [Agencies]


Date:2008-9-21 9:02:00     
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