Around 8 pm Pakistan Standard Time, a large explosion shook Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The explosion targetted and destroyed the Marriott Hotel.
About 60 people have died (including two US Marines), and hundreds are injured. Casualties are expected to rise as injured people succumb to their injuries and as more bodies are found.
This attack has sent Pakistan into a panic. Now, this is not a new terrorist attack. There have been terrorist attacks going on for some time now, particularly as the Pakistani military has stepped up its campaigns against terrorists and militants. However, the symbolism of this attack is staggering. The Marriott was a very prestigious hotel, and was frequented by foreign officials, foreign reporters (Christiane Amanpour of CNN would broadcast from the roof of the Marriott), foreign visitors, and even well-connected Pakistanis visiting Islamabad. It was supposed to be the most secure hotel. It was also used extensively by government officials for functions, receptions, dinners, and whatnot. That such an attack could be made, practically destroying the entire hotel, has sent confidence in Pakistan plummeting. Even Pakistanis are extremely shocked and upset.
Now, there were terrorist attacks against the Marriott, but none were as massive as what happened on Saturday, September 20, 2008.
In a flashback to September 11, 2001, people were leaping from the top floors of the building to their death when fire made any other form of escape impossible.
There was a personal edge to this for me. My father had left for Pakistan a few days before, going to Islamabad. When he’s at Islamabad, he stays at the Marriott. When I found out about the attack, I began to panic mightily. I called his cell phone, but there was no answer. In fact, I got a message saying the call could not go through. So I called home (I was at school at this time), and Mom picked up. I panickedly asked her what city Dad was in. She said he was in Karachi. I was able to calm down a bit. I then explained to Mom what had happened in Islamabad.
There are many stories going around and, as is the wont for Pakistanis, it’s impossible to tell which are true, which are embellishments, which are crackpot conspiracy theories, and which are deliberate lies for misinformation.
One explanation that seems plausible is that the high-ranking officials of the Pakistani government were going to hold a reception at the Marriott in honor of Asif Ali Zardari’s first address as president. At the last moment, the venue was changed to the Prime Minister’s House. The attack could have been against the government officials expected to be there, who were spared by this last-minute decision.
(As a point of reference, the key buildings of the Pakistani government – the National Assembly, Prime Minister’s House, President’s House, Supreme Court – are walking distance from the Marriott.)
I’m still sifting through various conflicting reports in American and Pakistani media. It’s way too confusing right now. But hopefully we shall see the facts.
Just when I thought Pakistan was making some progress, something like this comes along and throws everything into chaos again.
Update: According to Dawn News (a respected Pakistani newspaper), Marriott representatives said there was no reservation by or for government officials at the Marriott.
Also, a commenter left a comment comprising of a link to a post of his/her alleging that The United States did the attack. The comment was not approved, and no such comment will be approved.
A post on the recent tragedy in Islamabad will be up later today.