A truck containing a metric ton of explosives slammed into the front gate of the five star Marriott Hotel in Islamabad today, in an incident some officials are already calling “Pakistan’s 9/11“. The attack has killed at least 60 people and injured 257 more, though it is feared that the final death toll could reach into the hundreds.
The attack occurred just hours after recently elected President Asif Ali Zardari’s first address to parliament, in which he urged Pakistan to unite and eliminate terrorism. Some Pakistani officials claimed that the parliament session was the real target of the attack but checkpoints had forced the attackers to choose another target.
But other news agencies suggest reasons for the hotel itself to be the intended target. Asian News International claims the militants had been tipped off to the presence of several high ranking CIA officials staying in the hotel. The Indo-Asian News Service, by contrast, cites security officials who said that 30 US Marines had been staying in the hotel, and were scheduled to leave for Afghanistan tomorrow morning.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik also told reporters that he “had intelligence reports two days ago that some incident might take place“. Witnesses also claim that the attackers warned people outside the hotel just minutes before the blast to “run away and save their lives“.
President Zardari vowed retaliation against the as yet unidentified attackers, and insisted that the Pakistani people “are not afraid of death”. Islamabad has increased security near embassies, mosques, and other likely targets for potential future attacks. Several major hotels in the city of Lahore also reportedly were evacuated after the Islamabad bombing.