Blast Kills At Least 40 At Pakistan Hotel
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
To Pakistan now. A suicide bomb attack today destroyed a luxury hotel and killed at least 40 people. A truck packed with explosives crashed into the Marriott Hotel in the capital, Islamabad. Hundreds of people were injured. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Islamabad and has this report.
(Soundbite of siren)
PHILIP REEVES: There have been many suicide bombs in Pakistan in the last year and a half, but few more devastating than this. Hours after the blast, the Marriott Hotel continued to burn with such ferocity that it was in danger of collapse. Tired, dazed-looking rescue workers was still searching for trapped people and coming out with charred corpses.
The Marriott is one of only two five-star hotels in Pakistan's capital. It's a favorite with Western journalists, diplomats, and wealthy Pakistanis. It's usually well-guarded. The explosion happened just after Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims end the day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Hotel owner Sadaruddin Hashwani says a truck laden with explosives pulled up at the security barrier at the front of the hotel.
Mr. SADARUDDIN HASHWANI (Proprietor, Marriott Hotel, Islamabad, Pakistan): The security people stopped the van, and they started searching because we have a barrier, you know. It was dumper truck, so, it must have come with a purpose. The gate didn't open, and the man blew up there only, outside the gate.
Mr. AYAZ AMIR (Pakistani Politician and Writer): And you've seen the crater here, outside the gate.
REEVES: That's Ayaz Amir, an opposition politician and writer. He's standing close by the crater made by the blast. The crater is at least 20 feet deep, perhaps more.
Mr. AMIR: This really looks, not like a ground explosion, but something from the air, as if some, you know, a bomb had fallen from the air. And that's what the crater looks like.
REEVES: A few yards away, Mohammed Sayid(ph) is standing on a carpet of broken glass, branches, and leaves blown off the trees around the hotel. He's watching the fire. Sayid was a chef in one of the Marriott's restaurants. He says he was inside when the attack began.
Mr. MOHAMMED SAYID (Chef, Marriott Hotel Restaurant, Islamabad, Pakistan): So, first was one small explosion. Then I went outside. I saw this. And after that, my restaurant manager said, you go inside. Maybe there is blast. And when I came a little bit inside restaurant, then had huge blast.
REEVES: His white chef's uniform is splattered with blood. The blood came from an injured friend, he says. His anger is already beginning to overtake the shock.
Mr. SAYID: This is not Muslim. I don't think this is human beings. They are animal, they do like this. So many people lost life. And our jobs and our hotel business, everything is gone.
Unidentified Woman: I need a stretcher...
REEVES: Tonight, Islamabad's hospitals are at full stretch tending to the many, many injured. The blast happened a few hours after Asif Ali Zardari made his first address to parliament since being sworn in as Pakistan's president. His first days in office have been dominated by a furor over U.S. military strikes inside Pakistan's tribal belt, a haven for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. For months now, the Pakistani army has been trying to drive militants out of parts of the northwest using artillery and combat aircraft. Ayaz Amir is in no doubt today's attack was linked to the conflict of the militants and the worsening war in Afghanistan.
Mr. AMIR: Well, it's part of what's going on on the western border. It's Afghanistan, the flames of war from there, and this is connected with that somehow. It doesn't really take rocket science to figure this out.
REEVES: Nawa Askama(ph), a young Pakistani watching this terrible scene, has figured something else out.
Mr. NAWA ASKAMA: The situation is very, you know, dangerous now. So, no one can say what's going to happen next.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.
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