September 22, 2008 in Nation/World

Two Americans among dead in Pakistan

Investigation focusing on militants; surveillance footage released
By Edmund Sanders and Mubashir Zaidi Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

Army troops conduct a rescue operation Sunday at the site of Saturday’s massive truck bombing at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan.
(Full-size photo)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Investigators combed through the charred wreckage of the Marriott Hotel here Sunday in search of clues to who was responsible for a suicide bombing that killed at least 53 people, including two members of the U.S. military.

As of late Sunday, no group had claimed responsibility for the attack the day before, but authorities said the investigation was focusing on militant tribes known as the Pakistani Taliban.

“All roads lead to Wazirstan,” said Rehman Malik, the top official in the Interior Ministry, referring to mountainous militant strongholds in the country’s northwest that have come under attack by the Pakistani army.

In Washington, the Department of Defense released a statement that two service members assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad had died in the Marriott attack. Their names were withheld pending notification of their families, and no other information was provided.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor on Sunday said a State Department contractor remained missing.

The high-profile attack was the latest reminder of a rise in al-Qaida-affiliated militancy in Pakistan, despite billions of dollars in U.S. support to the country since 2001. Pakistan witnessed nearly 60 suicide bombings last year, including one that killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

Government officials released surveillance video of the moments leading up to the blast at the five-star hotel about 8 p.m. Saturday.

The dramatic footage shows the explosives-laden truck ramming the security gate about 60 feet from the hotel and suddenly bursting into flames. Hotel guards, apparently unaware that the truck still contained nearly 1,300 pounds of military-grade explosives, TNT and aluminum power, gathered around, appearing uncertain of what to do. One guard attempted to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher.

The video ends before the second, much-larger explosion devastated the landmark hotel, which is frequented by foreign diplomats and visitors as well as Pakistani VIPs. The blast triggered a fire that raced through the hotel, which was still smoldering Sunday evening.

Four Americans were among the 266 people wounded by the blast. The majority of dead and injured were Pakistanis. Also among the dead was Czech Ambassador Ivo Zdarek.

Some analysts said the attack appeared to reflect anti-Pakistani sentiment rather than anger toward the United States, noting that the attack came just hours after newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari’s first address to parliament and during the iftar dinner at the Marriott, where a large number of influential Pakistani political and business leaders likely would be in attendance. Iftar marks the end of the daily fast during Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“It was well thought through,” said Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani who is a former International Monetary Fund official and author. “They are threatening the integrity of Pakistan now. This is not an anti-American action now. These are people attacking Pakistani institutions inside the heartland of Pakistan.”

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