At least 15 dead in Pakistani hotel blast

Pakistani police gather at the five-star hotel destroyed by a car bomb.
The death toll from a suicide attack on a five-star hotel in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar rose to at least 15 people Wednesday, including two U.N. employees, authorities said.

Three suicide attackers shot their way onto the grounds of the Pearl Continental Hotel, which is often frequented by foreigners and diplomats and set off a car bomb Tuesday night. At least 64 were wounded, according to Qhazi Jamil, senior superintendent of Peshawar police. The dead U.N. employees were a Serbian national working for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and a UNICEF worker from the Philippines. The assailants fired on security guards at the hotel’s entrance gate and forced their way inside before setting off the bomb, Jamil said. Watch why the hotel is of significance ยป The blast inflicted severe damage on the building, which is surrounded by a security wall, and destroyed dozens of cars in the parking lot, police and witnesses said. The bomb contained about 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of explosives, the chief of Peshawar’s bomb-disposal squad said.

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Surveillance video appeared to show a car and a truck involved in the attack, getting through the hotel’s outside gate and security checkpoint with relative ease. “They tried their best to stop the car bomb,” said Jamil Kharwar, a spokesman for the hotel. “When a person has in his mind to come to die, nobody can stop him.” Peshawar is the capital of North West Frontier Province, which has suffered a spate of bombings on civilian targets in the wake of the Pakistani military’s ongoing military offensive against Taliban militants. Sajjan Gohel, an international security analyst at the Asia-Pacific Foundation in Britain, said the blast appeared to be a response to the government’s offensive. “It has been criticized very heavily in the tribal areas because of the fact that the Pakistani military has been using helicopter gunships against the Taliban, which has resulted in very high civilian casualties,” Gohel said. He said people in the region are sympathetic to the Taliban, the Islamic militia that ruled most of Afghanistan before the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington by its al Qaeda allies. “This is where winning hearts and minds is so key and important, which the military are failing to do,” he said. However, hundreds of Pakistani villagers who have formed an anti-Taliban militia are currently fighting to remove the Islamic militants from their region of northwestern Pakistan, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told CNN.

Abbas told CNN the Pakistani military is supporting the villagers, who turned against the Taliban after a suicide attack on a local mosque during Friday prayers left at least 40 dead. The Pearl Continental is owned by the same group as the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad destroyed in a suicide truck bombing in September.