Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Suicide attackers in a truck launched an assault Tuesday on a luxury hotel commonly used by foreigners in Peshawar, Pakistan, firing guns as they stormed past guards and then setting off a huge blast that killed at least five people and wounded 65 more, officials said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the largest city in Pakistan's restive northwest, but it fit the pattern of recent Taliban attacks the militants said were in retaliation for a military campaign against militants in the Swat Valley region.
Local TV networks showed that part of the Pearl Continental Hotel had been demolished in the blast, reduced to concrete rubble and twisted steel. The scene was pandemonium as armed police rushed around and Pakistani men stood by looking stunned. One man held a bloodied rag to his head.
A large crater was blasted into the ground.
An AP reporter saw six foreigners being helped out of the hotel. They all had wounds and at least two of them had bandages around their heads. One of them said, "We work for UNHCR." He also said officials from World Food Program were also staying at the hotel.
Police official Liaqat Ali said he learned from witnesses that three men riding in a truck approached the main gate of the hotel and opened fire at security guards before driving inside.
"They drove the vehicle inside the hotel gates and blew it up on reaching close to the hotel building," Ali said.
A top government official in Peshawar, Sahibzada Anis, said at least five people were killed. Another police official Ghulam Mohammad Khan said that so far 65 wounded people had been shifted to various hospitals.
One injured man said he was in his room on the ground floor when he heard gunshots and then a big bang. "The floor under my feet shook. I thought the roof was falling on me. I ran out. I saw everybody running in panic," Jawad Chaudhry said. "There was blood and pieces of glass everywhere."
He said several people were lying on floor with wounds and that some of them seemed to be unconscious.
Jamal Khan, a chef at the hotel, blundered out covered in dust and his apron spattered with blood. "I was busy as usual cooking when I heard a deafening bang," he said. "I tumbled and hit a wall. I do not know how I managed to come out. I just heard people crying in pain and crying for help."
The Pearl Continental, affectionately called the "PC" by Pakistanis, is relatively well-guarded and set far back from the main road and overlooking a golf course and a historic fort. It is located just over a mile from the city's airport. Parking in front of the structure is heavily restricted, and to get to the front doors of the building, a car has to undergo security checks and travel around concrete and metal barriers.
The hotel is a favorite place for foreigners and elite Pakistanis to stay and socialize, making it a high-profile target for militants. Last year, a massive bombing at Islamabad's Marriott Hotel killed more than 50 people and wounded dozens, rattling the nation.
Farahnaz Ispahani, spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari and the ruling party, condemned the attack.
"We will not bow down. We will not be cowed by these people," she said. "We will root them out. We will fight them and we will win. This is Pakistan's unity and integrity that is at stake."
Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, said all diplomatic personnel were accounted for. "At this point we have no reports that any Americans were at the scene," he said.