Media outlets report that an explosion has killed 5 people and wounded 25 at the Pearl-Continental Hotel in Peshawar. According to GEO News, the injured included mostly workers at the hotel, although BBC News cited an unconfirmed report that said foreign guests are also among those hurt by the bombing. AAJ Television reported, “Government investigator Sahibzada Anees said officials were trying to establish whether a device had been planted or it was a suicide attack. Television channels quoted witnesses as saying it was a gun and bomb attack.” A later report by CNN confirmed that this was a car bombing. The bomb, the news agency reported, had to get through the hotel gate and a security checkpoint. The bomb went off right at the entrance.
According to CNN’s correspondent Reza Sayah, “What stands out is that this is a huge civilian target and this is in the heart of Peshawar.” He framed this attack in light of the bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel in September 2008. Both hotels, noted the news agency, are owned by Sadruddin Hashwani‘s Hashoo Group.
UPDATE 1358 [EST]: CNN’s Reza Sayah says the official death toll is now 11, with the injured now numbering in the 50’s. According to him and other news agencies, the PC Hotel was a “favored destination for foreigners,” and CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, who has stayed at the hotel, said it is is next door to a police station and near a major army barracks. According to Sayah though, US officials said no Americans who had registered with the embassy were staying at the hotel, [this does not mean there were no Americans at the PC, just that none who had registered were there]. I hope the news focuses also on the Pakistani victims of this attack. It seems there were many hotel workers killed, much like the Marriott bombing in Islamabad.
UPDATE 1430 [EST]: BBC News cited an eyewitness, Fazle Mubeen, who said two vehicles had been involved in the incident. “Policeman told me they had opened fire on two vehicles. Two men were killed in the first car. Then the second vehicle entered the premises and the blast happened.” Following the Marriott blast, Fidayeen-e-Islam, a little-known Pakistani militant group, told the BBC it had carried out the attack with the aim of stopping US interference in Pakistan. However, it is extremely common for unknown militant groups to claim responsibility for large-scale attacks in order to gain notoriety, even if they didn’t commit the attack. We’ll probably hear several claims of responsibility before pinpointing exactly who perpetrated the bombing.
UPDATE 1445 [EST]: Dawn News correspondent is reporting that this bombing was “not unexpected.” According to him, there had been intelligence reports that explosives had entered the city and Peshawar had put on high alert, with extra security at entrance points from the tribal belt. Dawn reported that 500 kilograms of explosives were used in the PC Hotel bombing.
UPDATE 1540 [EST]: CNN reports that officials are desperately searching for casualties. This is the seventh attack to occur in Peshawar in a month, media outlets report. The blast left a large crater, according to an Associated Press journalist, and TV footage suggests part of the hotel was badly damaged. CNN’s Reza Sayah said that government officials are saying it was a suicide bomber. Police told CNN that three men in a pickup truck shot at guards, drove in through the gates, and detonated the bomb somewhere in the parking lot. GEO News is reporting that most of the injured were hotel workers, and CNN cited one report that indicated a United Nations worker was among the dead.
Dawn News interviewed the Daily Times’ Ejaz Haider who commented on the security situation, noting the Pakistani military needs to “erode Pakistan’s insurgency from the inside,” and attack the Pakistan Taliban’s “center of gravity” – located in South Waziristan. He advocated the killing and capture of high-profile militants in order to sway the offensive further in the military’s favor.
UPDATE [1726 EST]: According to BBC News, “The attack killed a Serbian UN refugee agency worker and the injured include a British man and a German national…At least a dozen UN employees were staying at the hotel at the time of the explosion.” Most of the casualties of the attack were therefore Pakistanis, specifically those who worked at the hotel.
UPDATE 2311 [EST]: GEO News reports that the death toll has gone up to 12 people killed, although other news agencies still put the number at 11. Dawn quoted the Capital City Police Chief who said, “The assailants first killed the security guards on the main gate to lower the electronic barrier and then went inside the main parking lot, firing indiscriminately. A mini-truck laden with explosives then entered the hotel premises and exploded in the main parking lot close to the main building.” The Financial Times spoke to a senior security official in Peshawar who said,”We had intelligence reports suggesting that Baitullah Mehsud was planning such an attack. He is top of our list of suspects,” [the official also stated that the likely perpetrators were militants loyal to Mehsud].
Here’s also an interesting link to the Lede blog at the NY Times, which reported the United States had been planning to buy the hotel to expand its diplomatic presence in Peshawar – not sure what I make of that story.
UPDATE [TUES]: The NY Times now reports that the death toll from Tuesday’s bombing has now reached 16. The owner of the PC hotel [and the Marriott in Islamabad] Sadruddin Hashwani told news agencies that the government should have provided better security, and he pledged to reopen the hotel in two months. Two foreign United Nations workers were among those killed. The hotel was housing other UN workers, many of whom were there for the IDP relief efforts in the region.
Below is a good analysis and back-and-forth between CNN’s Nic Robertson and Richard Quest.