Truck Bomb in Islamabad Seen As Message to Gov’t
Coming hours after President Asif Zardari delivered his first speech to parliament and pledged to eliminate terrorism, the powerful blast was the third time terrorists have targeted the hotel, popular with foreigners, since 2004 (A J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, was bombed in 2003, killing 12 people).
The two dead Americans are believed to be U.S. Marines stationed at the U.S. Embassy. The embassy issued a statement saying that embassy personnel should until further notice “limit their movement to travel to and from the embassy and to shopping for essential items only.”
The government of Denmark said Sunday that a Danish intelligence agent was missing. The agent was in Pakistan to help improve security for Danish embassy staff there, Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller was quoted as saying. The Danish Embassy in Islamabad was bombed last June, in an attack that cost eight lives.
Fifty-six suicide attacks in Pakistan in 2007 accounted for nearly 636 deaths. Twenty such attacks so far this year have killed more than 500 people.
The Pakistan Army said the latest attack was a reaction to its operations against terrorists in the tribal belt adjoining Afghanistan.
Some also see it as a warning to the new government in Islamabad to stop cooperating with the U.S. in the campaign against Islamist terror, noting that the terrorists chose to strike near the government high security zone.
Defense Analyst Talat Masood said the terrorists were letting the leadership know that they are capable of reaching any target at any time or place, no matter how secure it might be.
Although no group has as yet claimed responsibility for the attack investigating officials say all clues point to the work of al-Qaeda and allied groups.
The attack took place on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s call to Pakistani Muslims to unleash jihad against their government for joining hands with U.S.
Video footage showed a suicide bomber ram an explosive-laden truck into the main gate of the hotel, destroying numerous vehicles, uprooting trees and triggering an inferno.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said he believed the bomber was aiming to attack parliament and changed plans when obstructed by tight security.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the bombing “barbaric,” and said the fact that it occurred during the Islamic fast month of Ramadan underscored “that those responsible have no respect for the principles of their faith.”
The attack comes at a time of tensions between Washington and Islamabad, over a shift in U.S. policies regarding attacks against Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists on Pakistani soil.
Zardari, who said in his parliamentary speech Saturday that Pakistan would not tolerate violations of its sovereignty in the name of fighting terrorism, is due to meet with President Bush in New York City this week.
Indian foreign policy analyst and former diplomat G. Parthasarthy said the policies of the Pakistani Army and ISI intelligence service of fomenting terrorist activity in India and Afghanistan were now taking their toll at home.
For years, India has accused its historical rival of encouraging cross border terrorism and permitting terrorist training camps. Pakistan had denies the charge, saying it lends only moral support to groups struggling for self-determination in the Indian-controlled over part of divided Kashmir. The neighbors both claim the Himalayan territory.
Before 9/11, Pakistan was allied to the Taliban militia that governed most of Afghanistan. Although former military ruler Pervez Musharraf severed ties and sided with the U.S., officials in India and President Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan suspect there is continuing support for Taliban activities among some elements in the military and especially the ISI.