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Archive for September 22nd, 2008

According to several media outlets on Monday, an unknown militant group, Fidaeen-e-Islam, [despite some media outlets noting it translated to, “Partisans of Islam,” it actually translates to “Freedom Fighters of Islam” or the “Guerillas of Islam”], claimed responsibility for Saturday’s Marriott Hotel attack, [see related CHUP post for coverage] which killed 57 people and wounded more than 250. Several media outlets, including CNN, Dawn, and AAJ Television reported that a spokesman for the group contacted Al-Arabiya Television to announce their involvement. However, GEO Television reported that they had also received a call from the organization, adding:

In a videotaped message in English language forwarded to Geo News after the telephone call, which is being kept confidential by Geo in the best national interest, the group has also made many other demands from the government.

So far, news agencies have not been able to authenticate the message, and Dawn noted that “no one from the government, especially the interior ministry has commented on it officially.” However, reported the news agency, “a senior official of the ministry, who did not wish to be named, told Dawn that intelligence agencies were investigating the call received by the media organizations.” So far, they have reportedly been able to confirm that the call came from within Pakistan, but not from anywhere inside Islamabad.

In the recording, the group said 250 U.S. Marines and other U.S. and NATO officials were inside the hotel at the time of the attack. The group also noted that they regretted the attack, but said it was necessary to press its demands, including an end to U.S.-Pakistani joint efforts and a halt to all military operations in Pakistan’s tribal regions, reported CNN.

Until the tape can be verified, we should take news of such claims with a grain of salt, particularly since it is often in the interest of more obscure militant organizations to falsely claim responsibility for attacks to increase their notoriety. While the Fidaeen-e-Islam (FI) is a terrorist organization, it is still unknown whether it possesses any links with the Tehreek-e-Taliban or Al Qaeda. Although the head of Pakistan’s Interior Ministry Rehman Malik has said the government has not yet arrested any suspects, he told reporters that suspicion is falling on militants in the tribal areas. CNN cited the official, who said yesterday, “I am not in a position to tell you who has done it, but (in) all the previous investigations, all the roads have gone to South Waziristan.” The news agency added, South Waziristan is one of seven agencies of Pakistan’s tribal areas where Taliban and al Qaeda militants are active. However, the Associated Press has reported that Amir Mohammad, an aide to leader of the Pakistani Taliban Beitullah Mehsud, said he shared the country’s grief and was not involved. Ultimately, speculation may be abound, but the government has yet to verify anything related to who perpetrated Saturday’s devastating attack.

Other conflicting reports surrounding the bombing have also garnered significant media attention. Earlier on Monday, Rehman Malik told reporters that Pakistan’s president, prime minister and other leaders had planned to dine at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday night. However, the dinner plans were changed last minute, when President Zardari asked to move the event to the PM compound. ARY Television quoted Malik, who spoke to the media during the service where the body of the Czech Republic envoy [killed in Saturday’s attack] was handed over to country officials. He said, “At the eleventh hour, the president and prime minister decided that the venue would be the prime minister’s house. It saved the entire leadership.”

CNN reported that the revelation raised questions “as to how much the government knew about the planned attack, which involved a construction truck with more than 600 kg (1,300 pounds) of explosives.” Despite the announcement, Marriott’s owner, Sadruddin Hashwani, denied the government had made reservations at the hotel that night. According to Dawn, he stated, “I have checked from the management and the hotel administration, no booking had been made for an official dinner on that day.” CNN cited a Pakistani senator, Javed Ashraf Qazi, who told the news agency he was invited to the dinner “but it was always scheduled to be at the prime minister’s office.”

In the aftermath of Saturday’s tragedy, it is increasingly clear that very little has been verified or confirmed. What is known is that the gravity of the security situation can no longer be ignored by the Pakistani government or the Pakistani people. The tragedy of Saturday’s bombing lies in the numbers of innocent civilians that were killed or injured – not just those dining during iftar, or the foreigners present, but also the drivers, the security guards, the doormen, and the hotel workers. Many of those people were the face of the Marriott Hotel that most of us came to know over the years. Regardless whether the Marriott is rebuilt in three months or three years, we will always remember them.

Also: Shaheryar Mirza, the author of yesterday’s post, “Making Ourselves Accountable,” appeared on BBC World’s Have Your Say, a discussion on U.S. involvement in Pakistan. To listen to the show, click here, and download the podcast for 22 September 08, entitled, “The World’s Policeman.”

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