Pakistan Rejects U.S. Investigation of Hotel 'Blast'

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 09/23/2008 - 7:06pm.


Pakistan army troops arrive to conduct a rescue operation at the site of Saturday's massive truck bombing at Marriott hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sunday. The bombing devastated the luxury hotel in Pakistan's capital, killing some 40 people and injuring more than 250. - photo Anjum Naveed, AP

Pakistan on Sunday rejected a U.S. offer to help investigate the weekend suicide bombing that killed at least 53 people and destroyed the Islamabad Marriott, this capital city's best-known hotel.

"We do not need help. We are competent. We reject it," Interior Ministry adviser Rehman Malik told reporters Sunday after the U.S. offered FBI help in pursuing the terrorists behind the attack.

The Marriott bombing is the latest in a series of terrorist attacks across Pakistan and will likely intensify debate within the country over Pakistani support for the U.S. war on terror, says Samina Ahmed, South Asia director for the conflict prevention, non-profit International Crisis Group.

VIDEO: Moments before Pakistan blast

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"This strengthens those voices who say this is not our war," she says. Indeed, Maulana Fazal ur Rehman of the religious political party Jamiat Ulema Islam, part of the governing coalition, called Sunday for the country to drop former president Pervez Musharraf's policy of allying with the United States against the militants.

Rescuers continued to pull charred bodies from the wreckage, and fires continued to burn inside the hotel Sunday.

The attack on the heavily guarded, five-star hotel seemed designed to kill as many people as possible, Ahmed said. It occurred just after 8 p.m. Sunday when the hotel's popular restaurants were packed with Muslims just finishing their daytime fasting for the Ramadan holiday. "It was a cowardly act of terrorism in this holy month of Ramadan," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said. He announced a 10 million rupee ($143,000) reward for information on the attack.

Law Minister Farooq Naik called the attack Pakistan's 9/11.

The government released surveillance camera footage showing the attack. A suicide bomber at the wheel of a dump truck opened fire at Marriott security guards who refused to let him into the parking lot. He then detonated himself and started a small fire. The guards spent four minutes trying to extinguish the blaze when another, much bigger explosion went off. The truck had been carrying 1,300 pounds of explosives - making it the most powerful bomb terrorists have ever used in Pakistan, Malik said. The second blast left a crater 24 feet deep and 59 feet wide. At least 53 people died, including two Americans and the Czech ambassador who lived at the hotel.

The Marriott attack came exactly one year after al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden called for Muslims to wage holy war against the Pakistani government.

The Marriott was an oasis of civility for foreign diplomats and journalists assigned to Pakistan and for wealthy Pakistanis, who came for afternoon tea or sumptuous buffets at the Nadia restaurant. Like the Jan.14 attack on the five-star Serena hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul, it seemed designed to show that the militants could strike even the most heavily guarded targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "It is horrific," Ahmed said.

The Islamabad Marriott was attacked once before. In January 2007, a security guard blocked a suicide bomber, who detonated himself, killing the guard and wounding seven others.

Malik said he suspected Saturday's Marriott attack would be traced back to militants operating from the lawless tribal areas on Pakistan's northwest frontier with Afghanistan. "All roads lead to to South Waziristan," a militant hotbed in the tribal areas, he said.

The Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies regrouped in Pakistan's tribal areas after being driven from Afghanistan by U.S. forces following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. They have been crossing the border and launching attacks on U.S. and NATO forces defending the pro-U.S. government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

For the past four years, the Pakistani army has unsuccessfully tried both offenses and truces to bring peace to the tribal areas. The United States has grown impatient and in recent weeks has launched its own air strikes and raids on Pakistani territory, straining relations with Pakistan's new government.

Polls show that the U.S. war on terror is very unpopular with the Pakistani people, who would prefer to see the government make peace, not war, with pro-Taliban militants. "The government has got to get the message across that this is our fight," Ahmed said.

The Marriott attack came hours after new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari delivered a speech promising to get tough on terrorism - but also criticizing the U.S. cross-border attacks.

Zardari spoke to the country again a few hours after the attack. "We will fight this menace. We will not be frightened," he said. "We are a brave nation and should clean this cancer."

The Associated Press also reported:

"¢ Leading newspapers in Pakistan urged the fledgling civilian government and the military today to craft a coherent policy against terrorism following the hotel bombing, no matter the reservations about America's actions in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and despite the notion that the Marriott was targeted because it was a social magnet for foreigners.

"It is time we accepted this war is our own," said a lengthy editorial in The News, one of the largest English language dailies in the country. "There must be no ambiguity about this."

Another leading daily, Dawn, said the country displayed a "distressing" lack of "visible direction," and that "the civilians leaders and their uniformed counterparts must draw up a clear policy to fight terrorism."

"¢ Pakistan's army and the U.S. military in Afghanistan said troops and tribesmen opened fire when two U.S. helicopters crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan. The two intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity today because they were not authorized to speak to media. They cited field informants.

"¢ British Airways has temporarily suspended flights to and from Pakistan amid security fears, airline spokesman Suhail Rehman said today.

Paul Wiseman, Zafar M. Sheikh - September 23, 2008 - source USAToday

Note: Wiseman reported from Hong Kong

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 09/23/2008 - 7:06pm.