25 killed in Pakistan hotel bombing
May 15, 2007 - 10:31:55 PM

Islamabad, May 15 - A suicide bomber killed 25 people and injured around 30 Tuesday at a hotel in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar in a possible reprisal for the recent elimination of Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah, news reports said.

The man, aged about 60, came to the reception of the central Marhaba Hotel at around 1 p.m. asking for food while carrying a sack, hotel staff told local media.

After being told to wait outside, he proceeded to the dining hall and detonated up to five kilos of explosives, police estimated.

The blast ripped through the dining hall where crowds of people were gathered for lunch. Most of the casualties were Afghans, witnesses said.

Pakistan's Geo news channel quoted unnamed security officials as saying that the son of Dadullah, a key Taliban leader who was killed last week in Afghanistan by US-led coalition forces, had been arrested at the hotel a few days earlier.

The hotel administration reportedly tipped off police to suspicious telephone conversations by the guest, although Pakistani officials did not confirm that the son was arrested or that this bore signs of a revenge attack.

'It would be premature to link the suicide attack with Dadullah's death,' Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said in Islamabad.

He added that Pakistan had not provided any information leading to the feared commander's death in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province last week.

However, the chief minister of the restive North-West Frontier Province -, Akram Durrani, told the channel that the severed limbs of the unidentified bomber carried a written warning that people caught spying for the US 'will meet the same fate'. No group has said it carried out the attack.

Two women, a child, the hotel owner and his two sons and two more relatives were said to be among those killed.

The blast was so powerful that it hurled bodies several metres from the building and killed pedestrians and a passing rickshaw driver on the street.

Television pictures showed smashed furnishings and twisted fans inside the hotel, which lost a wall in the blast. Nearby buildings were also damaged.

Half a dozen of the injured were in a critical condition, an administration official at a nearby hospital said.

One man, Muhammad Ibrahim, told the BBC of his near escape.

'I was entering the hotel when suddenly [there was] a huge bomb blast cracking everything around,' he said.

The Marhaba, in Peshawar's old city, is popular with tribal visitors from Afghanistan. There was speculation that the attack was aimed at the hotel proprietor, who was varyingly identified as an Afghan or an Uzbek.

Police immediately cordoned off the blast site near the city's historic 17th-century Mahabad Khan Mosque. Security was also boosted at all airports in Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack while opposition parties said the leadership bore responsibility.

'The growing terrorism in the country is the result of the present government's policies,' said a statement issued by exiled former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. 'The government has totally failed to protect citizens' lives and property.'

The bombing follows a weekend of clashes between the opposition and government-loyal forces in the southern city of Karachi that left more than 40 people dead.

Despite heightened security measures in NWFP, Peshawar has suffered a number of bombings in the past year, some of them suicide attacks.

'However many security arrangements there may be, it is not possible to stop suicide bombings,' Durrani said Tuesday.

Some of the attacks were blamed on militants from the tribal areas who are said to be taking revenge for government strikes against them. Others have been blamed on Afghan intelligence agents amid rising tensions between Kabul and Islamabad.

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