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Czech envoy among 60 killed in Pakistan blast

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad | September 21, 2008 16:46 IST

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Terror attack in Islamabad

Rescuers retrieved more bodies on Sunday from the burnt-out shell of the bombed Marriott Hotel in Islamabad [Images], pushing the death toll from one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country to at least 60, including the Czech ambassador and an American.

The scale of the attack bore tell-tale signs of the Al Qaeda [Images] network, which is closely linked with the Pakistani Taliban [Images] waging a bloody insurgency in the country, US intelligence officials were quoted as saying a day after the massive truck bombing shook the heart of Islamabad.

With some 180 people falling prey to attacks in Pakistan over the past one month, President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday vowed to eliminate the "cancer" of terrorism from the country.

At least four more charred bodies were brought out of the gutted five-star hotel on Sunday as rescuers searched the remains of the smouldering building.

The huge blast, in which officials said about 1,000 kilograms of explosives were used, ruptured gas pipelines and triggered a fire that razed through the five-storey 290-room hotel, popular among foreigners, especially diplomats.

The blaze was brought under control by fire-fighters about 13 hours after the suicide bomber struck at 8 pm on Saturday, when the hotel was packed with guests.

The army joined rescue workers at the site to clear the rubble and to search the building. Officials said it was feared that some more bodies could still be found from the charred rooms on the upper floors of the luxury hotel.

The explosion and the fire injured 260 people, including over 20 foreigners.

The Czech Ambassador to Pakistan Ivo Zdarek, 47, was among the 60 people killed, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [Images] said.

Officials at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences said a US national was among those killed.

Geo News channel reported that a Yugoslav, an American, a Saudi national and an Egyptian were among the foreigners who died. The dead foreign nationals included three women, the channel said.

Hotel owner Sadruddin Hashwani said 39 members of its staff, including security guards who stopped the bomber at the gate, were killed in the attack.

He said the police should have stopped the truck used by the bomber from entering the high-security "red zone" in the heart of Islamabad where the hotel is located.

Rehman Malik, who heads the interior ministry, said 1,000 kg of explosives were packed in the truck and hidden under sand and stones.

Gilani said the bomber succeeded in bringing the truck into the high-security area in the guise of carrying construction material.

"The terrorists want to end the democratic process and destabilise the country. They want to cause economic losses to the country and demoralise the security agencies... The people should be vigilant to foil the designs of the terrorists," Gilani said.

Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, officials pointed the finger of suspicion at the Al Qaeda and Taliban. They said the bombing was similar to the suicide attack on the office of the Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore [Images] in March.

The Marriott Hotel was a favourite gathering spot for foreigners and the Pakistani elite. At the time of the attack, its restaurants were packed with people who had come for the traditional iftar meal to break their fast at the end of another day of fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramzan.

© Copyright 2008 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.


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