A truck bombing of the Islamabad Marriott Hotel in Pakistan has killed at least 60 and wounded more than 200. The Marriott is about a quarter mile from Pakistan’s national parliament and the prime minister’s residence.
While the BBC reports a security official speculating that either of these was likely the primary target, the ThaiIndian News reports that senior CIA officers staying at the Islamabad Marriott were the primary targets.
Well placed sources said that Marriott Hotel is usual hotel choice of the US officials and it seems that militants tipped off that certain high level US intelligence officers were currently staying at the hotel. While no confirmation was available, Pakistan sources said it was clear that the explosion was aimed at specific targets based on a tip off.
Recall that that on January 14 of this year there was a suicide attack on the luxury five-star Serena Hotel in Kabul. Like the Marriott in Islamabad, the Serena Hotel was the lodging of choice for key foreign dignitaries and UA FBI and CIA agents.
With the latest tension between the US and Pakistan, exacerbated by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance which seeks the divisive tension, US military and intelligence visits with Pakistani leaders have increased in an effort to cool the situation as much as possible. Thus, the Marriott was likely the target of choice, as the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance would be unlikely to cause added friction with the government that is currently serving its aims by distancing itself from the United States.
President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, both of the ruling PPP, are on the Taliban’s hit list. However, a more precise means of liquidation can be expected with such figures, rather than risk killing or driving away helpful others among the Pakistani government with a large, indiscriminate bombing. The crater left by the massive truck bomb was approximately 30 feet. And while it appears to have detonated some distance from the main housing unit of the hotel, it ruptured a gas line which has set major sections of the Marriott ablaze.
This is not a preferred means of assassinating the president or prime minister given the current political climate. A bullet is much preferred. It is, however, a preferred means of attacking a Western hotel chain housing potentially hundreds of Westerners, including US intelligence officers.
UPDATE: From UPI, word that Pakistani president Zardari was nearby during the Marriott bombing.
At the time of the bombing, Zardari and the rest of the new government were nearby. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani hosted an iftar dinner, the traditional evening meal after the daylong fast in Ramadan, at the Secretariat, the Pak Tribune reported. The five-star Marriott caters to foreign business travelers and officials and members of the Pakistani elite. The bomber struck at 8 p.m. when many Muslim guests were in the dining room, breaking their fast.
Also, expect the death toll to rise as rubble is cleared. Keep in mind that it was dark during the bombing. It should also be expected that Americans will be among those killed.
UPDATE II: See also the following updates added since this article published:
RapidRecon: Danish Intelligence Primary Marriott Bombing Target?
FireWatch: “Reprisal” September 21, 2008 (MP3 Audio)