Marriott 'escape' report denied

Other News Materials 22 September 2008 22:35 (UTC +04:00)

The owner of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad has denied that Pakistan's top leaders had been due to dine there before Saturday's huge bomb attack, reported BBC.

He was responding to comments by interior ministry chief Rehman Malik.

Mr Malik said the president, prime minister and military chiefs were going to eat there but changed venue at the last minute.

A suicide bomb devastated the hotel killing at least 53 people and injuring more than 266 people.

The Marriott owner, Saddrudin Hashwani, told the BBC there never was a booking for a government dinner at the Marriott hotel on the night of the bomb attack nor any plans for a government function.

Mr Hashwani owns a string of hotels in Pakistan and is one of the country's most successful businessmen.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Malik told journalists that President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani were planning to dine at the Marriott before a late change of plan.

"The president and the prime minister changed the venue to the prime minister's house. The function was not held at the Marriott, thus the whole leadership was saved." He did not say why the dinner plans were changed.

In other developments, it was reported that Pakistani troops fired on US helicopters that violated Pakistani airspace near the border with Afghanistan on Sunday night.

Tensions between the US and Pakistan have risen in recent weeks amid US accusations that Pakistan is not doing enough to combat Taleban militants in the region.

And in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, an Afghan diplomat was kidnapped and his driver killed, reports said.

The heavily guarded Islamabad Marriott was attacked at about 2000 (1500 GMT) on Saturday.

CCTV footage of the moments before the blast show a six-wheeler lorry ramming the security barrier at the hotel gate.

The bomb - believed to have been detonated in the lorry - left a six-metre (20ft) crater.

Rescuers have been combing the wreckage for survivors and bodies.

Most of the dead were Pakistanis.

The Czech ambassador to Pakistan, one Vietnamese, a German and an American were among the dead, with an American and a Danish intelligence officer missing, presumed dead.

Residents of Islamabad have told the BBC there is now a climate of fear in the city with people too scared to go out.

The blast has prompted British Airways to cancel two flights to Pakistan "in light of the security situation".

No-one has yet admitted carrying out the attack, but the Pakistani Taleban are thought to be the most likely perpetrators.

The Marriott was the most prestigious hotel in the capital, located near government buildings and diplomatic missions. It is popular with foreigners and the Pakistani elite.

The hotel has previously been the target of militants. Last year, a suicide bomber killed himself and one other in an attack at the hotel.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, in Islamabad, says the latest attack might have been retaliation for army bombardments of suspected Taleban targets with jet fighters.

Earlier on Monday, Pakistan's government said it would take targeted action against the militants, promising raids in some "hotspots" near the border with Afghanistan.

Away from Islamabad, troops reportedly forced US helicopters out of Pakistani airspace in the tribal area of North Waziristan.

Our correspondent says that following a series of US raids on Pakistani territory earlier this month that it reserved the right to retaliate, with a series of warning shots the standard procedure.

In Peshawar, Afghan consul Abdul Khaliq Farahi was in a car in a city suburb when it was attacked by six unidentified men, officials say. His driver died in the attack.