ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A massive truck bomb Tuesday struck the only luxury hotel in Peshawar, a volatile city in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 11 and injuring 70, with several foreign nationals among the victims.
The Pearl Continental Hotel has been a landmark in the capital of the North West Frontier Province, and it's frequented by foreigners on business and protected by tight security. Peshawar's elite also used the hotel as a meeting and dining place, and at least one provincial minister was among the injured.
McClatchy reported last month that the U.S. government was negotiating to buy the hotel, which would be used to accommodate the city's American consulate and house U.S. officials working in Peshawar. The talks were said to have been in their final stages.
The attack, which occurred at 10:40 p.m., is likely the latest in a series of terrorist reprisals for the Pakistani army's military operation against the Pakistani Taliban under way in the Swat valley.
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A small truck packed with about half a ton of explosives got past the hotel's security barriers and armed guards and detonated at the side of the hotel, next to the kitchens, demolishing part of the hotel, said provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar. As the truck approached the hotel gates, the terrorists opened fire on the guards. At least three people were reported to have been riding in the vehicle.
A Russian United Nations employee was among the dead. Among the injured were a German, a Briton and a Nigerian. Around 25 U.N. staff members were staying at the five-star hotel, and several were thought to be among the injured, including a foreigner working for the U.N.'s World Food Program. Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.N. in Islamabad, said that he wasn't aware of any Americans caught up in the blast.
The "PC," as locals called it, a large structure set back from the road in the city center, was the only hotel in Peshawar considered safe enough for foreign nationals, though not secure enough for U.S. and British diplomats, whose embassies had barred them from living there.
The hotel is in one of Peshawar's most secure areas, next to the home of the army general who commands the local army corps. Iftikhar denied that there'd been a security failure.
"If in America, the Twin Towers are not safe, the Pentagon is not safe, in Islamabad, the Marriott (hotel) is not safe, how can anyone say there's been a security lapse here?" Iftikhar said.
In September, some 50 people died in a bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, which like the Pearl Continental was owned by Sadruddin Hashwani, a Pakistani tycoon.
The combined shooting and explosives attack, rather than just a suicide bombing, has become a hallmark for Islamic extremists, who used a similar tactic in the assault on a police and intelligence agency in Lahore last month, which killed 30. The death toll from the Peshawar attack would've been much higher had the vehicle struck the front entrance of the hotel.
"We are at a state of war," said Bashir Bilour, a senior minister in the North West Frontier Province regional government. "They want to terrorize the government but we will face them (the terrorists). We may have to fight them for many years but we will get rid of them, God willing."
A large crater was left at the side of the Pearl Continental. About 30 to 40 cars in the parking lot were destroyed. Blood and dust covered guests and employees who stumbled out of the wreckage amid chaotic scenes.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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