Pakistani and international intelligence officials say al Qaeda-linked indigenous Taliban militants are responsible for the suicide truck bomb that ripped through the popular Marriott hotel on Saturday night in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing more than 50 people and wounding hundreds more.
The attack occurred around 8 p.m., destroying the front of the hotel and puncturing a gas line, which ignited the structure, hampering rescue efforts.
Mohammed Ali, an emergency service official at the scene, told the Associated Press, "The fire has eaten the entire building."
CNN's Reza Sayah (video below) and the AP report the suicide bombing was timed to inflict maximum death and destruction. The Marriott's four restaurants were teeming with people breaking their daily fast during the month of Ramadan. The hotel is also popular with foreign dignitaries, government officials, and journalists.
The Times (of London) Online reports that the attack, much like the attack against the U.S. Embassy in Yemen last week, was classic al Qaeda.
Intelligence officials say that the sophistication of the truck bombing suggested that it was the work of al-Qaeda. What is most alarming, however, is that al-Qaeda and other militant groups now seem to be operating in the capital and other major cities with impunity.
The hotel, which has been the target of smaller attacks in the past, is already surrounded by a high security zone. But security was particularly high yesterday because of a joint session of parliament addressed by Asif Ali Zardari, the newly elected President.
The hotel resides not far from the compound that houses Parliament, the prime minister's mansion, the presidency, and the Supreme Court. Earlier that evening Zardari made his first address to Parliament, telling members that Pakistan's territorial integrity must be defended against terrorists as well as the United States, which now says it reserves the right to enter Pakistani territory to attack and to kill terrorists operating within. Al Qaeda-linked Taliban militants use Pakistan's lawless tribal areas as a safehaven to make cross-border attacks against the Afghan government and U.S.-led coalition forces.
The militants, however, have also begun to increasingly attack Pakistani targets. The Christian Science Monitor reports more than 1,300 people have been killed by terrorist violence this year alone.
Najam Sethi, the editor of several Lahore-based liberal newspapers and a respected analyst, told Time magazine the attack against the Marriott is a declaration of war against not only the government, but the general public as well.
"The Taliban and the terrorists are saying this is war and we are here. This was as close as you can get to the parliament where President Zardari was speaking earlier today. They have had a lot of time to prepare for this."
The attack has also provoked questions surrounding the hotel's security procedures and protocols. As the Times Online states:
The weekend attack also raises serious question about security lapses. How did such a big truck, carrying an estimated 600kg of explosives, get so close to such an important terror target? A lot of questions will need answering.