Jason Burke and Mubashir Zaidi in Islamabad guardian.co.uk, Saturday September 20 2008 17:25 BST
A view of the destruction caused by a bomb explosion at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. Photograph: B K Bangash/AP
A huge explosion ripped through part of a luxury hotel in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, today, damaging buildings in a wide radius, killing scores and injuring many more.
The blast, one of the biggest seen in Pakistan in recent years, took place at the Marriott hotel. The hotel was left burning fiercely all along its facade with fears that it could totally collapse.
Scores of bodies were being brought out of the flaming building as rescue workers battled the blaze in scenes of chaos. There are fears that the final death toll is likely to be well into the hundreds.
Hotel staff said that all the Marriott’s function rooms, including the large ballroom, had been hired for iftar – the traditional communal meal that breaks the day-long fast that Muslims observe during the holy month of Ramadan.
Senior police official Asghar Raza Gardezi said that the blast, one of the biggest such attacks in Pakistan for over a decade, was caused by more than a tonne of explosives.
Saleem Shahzad, a doctor, said he had been called to the hotel to check on an ill aircrew member staying there and was parking his car when the bomb went off. “I found myself carrying dozens of bodies across the street instead,” he said.
Witnesses spoke of corpses strewn on the ground.
Scores of ambulances rushed to the scene, negotiating burned out vehicles scattered around the hotel and a vast crater left by the explosion.
Windows in buildings hundreds of metres away in residential areas and a heavily guarded compound where ministers have their official homes were damaged.
Such was the force of the blast the commandoes surrounded the residence of the prime minister who was dining with the chief of army staff, Ashfaq Kayani, fearing a rocket attack, sources said.
The Marriott is in the centre of the city, close to the national assembly, the main commercial thoroughfare and the national television headquarters.
A 250-room hotel with five restaurants, a bar, a swimming pool, a health club, spa, business centre and numerous function rooms, security has been high at the hotel since an attempted suicide bombing in 2007, foiled by a security guard.