Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bomb Blast in Islamabad

Breaking News: 8:32 p.m.

A suicide bomber traveling in a truck has blown himself outside Marriott Hotel, Islamabad. It was a massive blast and the hotel is in ruins. The television pictures show many parts of the hotel on fire. The hotel's gas pipeline has burst making the situtation worse. The bombing occured around 8:05 p.m.

You can see live pictures via GEO, DAWN and AAJ.

The current death toll is 15 with at least 50 injured. These numbers may rise as all the people inside the hotel have not yet been accounted for.

The Islamabad Marriott is an upscale hotel that is the residence of choice for foreign travellers as well as rich local business travelers.

Geo is reporting that sources are claiming that they had reports that the Parliament House or
the Prime Minister's House was being targeted. Not sure if this blast is related or if that's a different threat.

Update - 8:57 p.m.

The Police and Fire Services officials are evacuating Marriott as they fear that the structure is about to collapse. The entire building is on fire. People are still trapped in the building.
The truck struck the security check post and appears to have been completely filled with explosives. A security official has stated that this is the most powerful bomb in Pakistani history.
Official death toll is now 24. That's just gone to 25.

Update - 9:05 p.m.

American and other foreign embassy officials have reached the scene. The hotel appears was near full occupancy. A large number of foreigners, including journalist covering Zardari's maiden speech to parliament were staying at the hotel. All the rooms in the hotel are on fire. The fire's raging.

Update - 9:18 p.m.

Interior Ministry has raised the death toll to 30. President's security adviser Rehman Malik has reached the scene. Owner of the hotel Sadruddin Hashwani is also on the scene, he's literally shaking.

The intensity of the blast can be gauged from the fact that 4 buildings around Marriott (located some way away) have been heavily damaged.

3 Americans and 1 Danish national are injured. 15 foreigners are reported to be still trapped inside.

I remember seeing the Sheraton Karachi after it was bombed a few years ago. The bombing in Islamabad is on another level. It's more reminiscent of the Oklahoma City bombings than any thing else I can recall.

Update - 9:31 p.m.

There were apparently 2 blasts, could be twin suicide blasts. First blast was aimed at the security check post, perhaps to allow the truck to head inside. The first blast did not fulfill this aim and then the truck blew up at the check post. Officials are claiming that there must have been around 400 - 500 kilograms of explosive material.

Jesus Christ, there were two kids shouting for help from one window. That room is now ablaze.

Figure for the death toll ranges from between 35 - 50; officials are claiming this may cross 100.

Update - 10:04 p.m.

Army Corps of Engineer have taken control of the operation. Trying to rescue the trapped as well as preventing the hotel from collapsing.

Death toll

Official / Geo / Dawn : 40
Din: 60
CNN: 50 (there reporter was inside Marriott at the time.)

The government is officially laying blame on the Taliban and other militants but no mention has been made of Al - Qaeda.

4 Germans and 1 Saudi are also among the injured.

Update - 10:21 p.m.

The Danish national injured in the blast is a diplomat.

Ishaq Dar of PML(N) is asked by Dawn News if his party will offer support to the government; he says they will but then he goes on talking about the restoration of the judiciary and the reason for PML N's exit from the coalition. The Dawn News guy wants to slap him, as do I. He calms himself down, I don't but can't slap him. He asks Ishaq Dar, again, "do you not agree that the security issue must take priority over other issues?" Ishaq replies "blah blah blah judge judges judges blah blah blah."

The PML N realy needs to understand what's actually happening in the country. They either seem unwilling or unable to comprehend the crisis afflicting the country. Not only is it bad policy, it's bad politics.

Update - 10:32

The Saudi Ambassador is on the scene. Confirms that there were a number of Saudi Airline staff in the building, of which 2 are injured and at PIMS. They are still trying to locate others.

Update - 10:47

Liaquat Baloch, a Jamaat Islami leader, is being interviewed. He claims that Zardari et al are not serious about solving problems afflicting the country. He states that the entire region has been set ablaze by 'foreign forces.' Just in case we didn't get what he was saying, he elaborates that 'foreign forces are to blame.' He then lays into the U.S. and the 'army regime.' He goes on to justify the actions of local militants by saying that if Pakistanis are going to be bombed by the U.S. and their own army, they will react. The inference here being that these people were innocent to begin with.

I.G. Islamabad says that the police was on red alert, there were serious threats and major government buildings were placed under a 'red zone.' The Marriott was not in this 'red zone' protection which may be why it was targetted. He has asked for more forces from the government. The army has been asked to aid the police. The explosive used seem to be the same as used to bomb the Danish Embassy says the I.G.

There is a 15 feet deep by 30 feet wide crater at the site.

Hotels in Islamabad, including Serena and Holiday Inn, have been evacuated.

Farhatullah Babar, spokesman PPPP - "The President's visit to the U.N., New York is sxpected to go ahead as scheduled." Surely the President will reconsider?

Update - 11:00 p.m.

The truck is reported to have been sighted on the roads for a couple of hours, was apparently unable to get to its primary target.

The entire Pakistani establishment - President, PM, Armed Forces Chiefs, Parlaiment and Senate leaders were all sitting in the same room, at an Iftar hosted by the President, when the bombing took place.

Official Death Toll: 47. Injured: 200.

Hospitals officials are reporting that they are running out of blood and are asking people to step forward and donate blood.

Update - 11:19

16 Saudi nationals injured, 6 are missing.

Countrywide Red Alert declared.

The explosives used in the bombing could be closer to 1 ton (1000 kg),double the original estimate.

Update - 11:27

It's almost 4 hours since the blast. No official statement has yet been released by any high ranking officials. Kamran Khan at Geo is going on about how our leaders are cowards.,I don't really know what they can say at this moment.

Update - 11:32

7 foreigners are confirmed dead.

AAJ showed pictures of 4 white men wearing flak jackets and carrying rifles (American soldiers?). The camera moved away after about 10 seconds, none of the other channels have shown this image. The media is being asked to vacate the immediate area. I would imagine that GEO would've run with this image so they must have been ordered not to carry these pictures.


asfand said...

I live less than 5 minutes away. My sister was supposed to eat at a restaurant next to Marriott (or i think the chinese restaurant in Marriott itself) till they moved because the food was crap or service was. Either way, I do NOT want to feel like this ever again in my life. :|

Cracked/shattered windows are abound, and my rather heavy guitar amp even fell to the floor :| I knew something was up because I heard two blasts, a tiny almost indiscriminate one and then the mother of them all. :|

AKS said...

Thanks for the update Asfand. I'm freaked out and I'm in Karachi, can't imagine what you must be going through.

Here's hoping that it doesn't get worse that it already is.

asfand said...

Is anyone else aghast at the GEO graphic at the bottom of the screen, where a black truck collides into a red text box containing the word 'Islamabad' (or something, my urdu is atrocious)?

changinguppakistan said...

Although only one window in my house was shattered, a lot of my friends who live closer had all their windows shattered. Everyone felt the blast.

AKS said...

@ asfand

It's horrible graphic. They've added a hotel building on top of the red box on top of which is written "Islamabad Marriott."

Does no one at Geo have any brains?

AKS said...

@ Chup and Asfand

Are the utilities still available in your areas? How are the residents reacting? I'm presuming everyone's staying in.

asfand said...

AKS: what? we're pakistanis! if something happens, we go to have a look! I had to go pick up my sister and the barracades have dozens and dozens of cars parked next to them. People are going to have a look (and some, ostensibly are going to help).

Shops are closed everywhere, except pharmacies ofcourse. Water and Gas is still fine over here, though I don't know about those who live very close to Marriott itself. Traffic outside though is light, but not eerie light.

chup, where do you live?

changinguppakistan said...

I'm not there right now, but my house is in E/7 - I've been hearing from my family and friends who live nearby, and the guys working at our house, who told me just one of our windows were blown in (since we don't face the main road). Another friend facing the main road in the same sector had all of his windows blown in, and my friend who lives in F-6 near the Marriott has to shift to his sister's house right now because of the affects of the blast. I was told the whole city is under emergency right now by friends there, but Asfand please correct me if I'm wrong.

Asfand, hope your family is all ok!

asfand said...


We're in F6/3, right next to Kohsar. I suppose our windows are rather strong then :o

Yep, Islamabad is in a state of emergency right now. Police everywhere (lots of patrol cars out).

and thank you for the concern! family and friends are fine thankfully, though we can never tell what bad news the next few days may bring.

changinguppakistan said...

On my blog, this girl commented blasting the government and Zardari for the blast. While the govt. certainly needs to undertake a proper strategy against these militants, I found it telling and significant that her first reaction was to blame the government and not the militants that may have perpetrated the attack...what do you guys think?

Anonymous said...

My parents have a house in F6/1 just off Attaturk ave that they've rented out and all the windows have been blown in!

I just don't want to lose my country like this. This all is devastating.

AKS said...

@ Chup

I don't know what more evidence these guys need to realise that we are facing an insurgency. And the primary aim of insurgents is to destabilize the structure of the state. We need to tackle these guys head on and do so on a united front. There is of course a need for a proper long term strategy as you point out.

I think the government, civil society and the intelligentsia need to a) come to terms with the situation and b) inform the citizens about what is happening and what needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

chup: the govt. can be blamed esp. the idiot rehman malik. All this is happening right under their noses and they just don't know. Are we absolutely incapable of taking ourselves out of this mess?

I'm so sad about the drivers and the security guards. Poor souls.

AKS said...

@ anon 641

I'm not sure there's anything the government can do in the present situation. They have to go after these guys in the border regions which no doubt inflames them and they react with these bombings.

How can you stop them?

The Islamabad Marriott is one of the most protected buildings in the country and it's burning. I guess you could push the security check posts further and further away from all 'sensitive buildings' but then they'll look for targets that aren't sensitive. Where do you stop?

changinguppakistan said...

Sure - of course the government should be blamed for not undertaking a proper strategy sooner. However, is your first inclination to blame those responsible for the blast or the government? It's just a question, since I think the response has been interesting.

AKS, I definitely agree - the government needs to undertake a UNIFIED strategy with other instruments of the state (ISI, military, etc.) to properly tackle this threat. However, the government for the past several weeks has been framing this fight as "our war" - why has that not translated properly to the public? Ultimately, what is the government doing wrong?

Dawn did an interesting piece on this today, that I want to include in a broader piece I write:

Majaz said...

I still can't get over this.. Nothing is safe anymore now. No hospitals, no mosques, no hotels, no cinemas, no shopping malls, nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

What the HELL is happening to this country?

Anonymous said...

AKS: I didn't see it, but I too wish I could have slapped Ishaq Dar. - Muna

tanh1980 said...

"AAJ showed pictures of 4 white men wearing flak jackets and carrying rifles (American soldiers?)."

These lines from a Dawn article may provide additional information about that:

"According to some sources, a number of US marines who had put up at the Marriott sustained injuries. They were due to leave for Kabul on Sunday."

"Well-equipped security officers from the US embassy were seen on the spot soon after the explosions. However, they left the scene shortly afterwards."

Hira S. said...

So they blew up a Pakistani hotel, filled primarily with pakistani people, to get to a few dozen American marines?

My God.

zeyd said...

How the hell do they get 600 fucking kilos of explosives into the center of the capital?

It's mind-blowing.

AKS said...

@ tanh1980

Thanks for the info

@ hira s

I don't think there's anyway of knowing whether the Marines were the target. In any event there can be no justification for this attack.

@ zeyd

As long as you've gone people willing to kill themselves and with access to the internet, there's so little you can do to prevent such an attack. I mean, in Karachi one could load up a truck at one of the godowns near Queens Road and head over to the PC, Sheraton, Marriot (Back Entrance), Sindh Club, Gymkhana, CM House, Governor House, etc, in 5 - 10 minutes.

Though it being Islamabad, I would be interested in knowing if there's a check point on the road leading to the Marriott.

tanh1980 said...

Dawn again:

According to sources, officials of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency and Marines who were staying in the hotel could have been the target of the attack.

Shortly after the blast, well-equipped personnel of US Marines took positions at the place to remove their colleagues, the sources added.

tanh1980 said...

The News: Was it an attack on US Marines?

Was there a top secret and mysterious operation of the US Marines going on inside the Marriott when it was attacked on Saturday evening? No one will confirm it but circumstantial evidence is in abundance.