The carnage at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
The bombing yesterday at the Marriott hotel in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad is shaping up to be one of the country’s most deadly attacks. The complex attack is the latest in a series of al Qaeda attacks that have occurred in the Middle East and South Asia over the last five years.
More than 70 people have been reported killed and 257 have been reported wounded so far in what the Pakistani press has dubbed “Pakistan’s 9/11.” The death toll is expected to rise as more people are believed to have been trapped in the hotel. Dozens of Westerners have been wounded in the attack, and there are unconfirmed reports one or more Westerners have been killed.
The massive blast left a crater 25 foot deep by 20 feet wide. The blast detonated a natural gas line in the hotel, which then set several floors of the hotel ablaze. Several floors of the hotel are still on fire. The hotel is essentially destroyed, there are fears the structure will collapse due to fire and blast damage. Buildings blocks away were heavily damaged.
The blast crater in front of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Photo from CBS News.
The attack was well planned and executed. The strike occurred in a so-called secure zone in Islamabad. Two vehicles were involved in the attack, according to Geo TV. A small vehicle breached the outer security barrier. A large dump truck packed with more than one ton of explosives then moved through the breach and detonated at the front of the hotel.
The Taliban may have been gunning for a high-value target. It was believed President Asif Ali Zardari would be visiting the hotel, but he was reportedly nearby when the blast occurred. Reports indicate teams from the US Central Intelligence Agency as well as US Marines were in the hotel at the time of the attack. Western diplomats, tourists, and businessmen favor the five-star hotel. The attack began in the evening after Muslims broke fast for Ramadan, ensuring the restaurants were filled.
The Marriott attack is one of the largest suicide strikes inside Pakistan over the past year, and the second large-scale bombing in over a month. More than 70 Pakistanis were killed and more than 100 were wounded after two suicide bombers detonated their vests nearly simultaneously outside the gates of the Wah military installation on Aug. 21. The Wah facility hosts elements of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.
The largest attack in Pakistani history occurred in Karachi on Oct. 18, 2007. Suicide bombers killed more than 130 Pakistanis and wounded more than 500 at a rally held to celebrate the return of Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistani People’s Party. A gunman and suicide bomber killed Benazir Bhutto as she campaigned in the military garrison city of Rawalpindi just two months later.
A potent enemy
The attack on the Islamabad Marriott is the latest in series of complex strikes against hardened locations or military formations in the Middle East and South Asia over the last five years by al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies. These attacks require logistical and financial support, training, coordination, intelligence gathering, and access to weapons and explosives.
Al Qaeda and allied movements have conducted multiple complex attacks in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The first strike occurred in Saudi Arabia, before al Qaeda in Iraq even began its insurgency and terror campaign.
Al Qaeda has reformed Brigade 055, the infamous military arm of the terror group made up of Arab recruits, US military and intelligence sources told The Long War Journal in July. The unit is thought to be commanded by Shaikh Khalid Habib al Shami.
Brigade 055 fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and was decimated during the US invasion of Afghanistan. Several other Arab brigades have been formed, some consisting of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards, an intelligence official told The Long War Journal. These units have helped to increase the Taliban’s sophistication in military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A look at some of the more high-profile complex attacks throughout the Middle East and South Asia over the past five years:
May 12, 2003
Four vehicles, three carrying explosives and two carrying the assault teams breached the gates of three compounds housing Westerners in the capital city. The assault teams breached the gates and the car bombs were driven into the compounds. Thirty-four people, including eight Americans, were killed and more than 160 were wounded.
Dec. 6, 2004
Al Qaeda hits the front gate of the US Consulate in Jeddah. The gate is breached and an assault force stormed the compound. The terrorist took hostages. Six local staff members, a security guard, and three Saudi soldiers were killed.
April 2, 2005
Al Qaeda in Iraq used car bombs in an attempt to breach the wall of a military prison in Abu Ghraib just west of Baghdad. The bombers were followed up by an infantry assault. US Marines repelled the assault, inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers.
April 13, 2005
Al Qaeda in Iraq attempted to breach the walls of a US military outpost on the Syrian border. Three trucks packed with explosives attempted to punch a hole in the outer wall. Al Qaeda then launched an infantry assault. US Marines repelled the attack, inflicting heavy casualties on al Qaeda forces.
June 24, 2005
More than 100 al Qaeda fighters launched an attack on an Iraqi police station in Baghdad. Like the attacks in Abu Ghraib and Husaybah, the attackers used suicide car and truck bombs and followed up with an infantry assault. The Iraqi Police held their ground and defeated the attack.
Oct. 25, 2005
Al Qaeda launched several car and truck bombs in an attempt to breach the wall of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. One truck penetrated the perimeter but the driver detonated after it stalled on the road.
Nov. 10, 2005
Three suicide bombing teams penetrated security and struck nearly simultaneously at the Grand Hyatt, the Radisson SAS and the Days Inn in Amman. The attacks occurred during weddings and other events. Fifty-six civilians were killed and 97 were wounded.
Feb. 25, 2006
Al Qaeda operatives in two cars made to look like ARAMCO vehicles got past the first ring of security but were destroyed after being detected and attacked by facility security guards.
Sept. 15, 2006
Two teams of car bombers dressed in military-styled uniforms attempted to destroy two oil installations at the Masila oil field. Security guards repelled the attacks; one came close to destroying a natural gas line and control room.
Feb. 20, 2007
Three al Qaeda suicide car and truck bombs attempt to breach the perimeter of a combat outpost in Tarmiyah. The bombs were followed up by a conventional assault on the compound. The ground assault was repelled but one of the car bombs exploded near the inner wall. This caused a fuel explosion and the collapse of a tower, killing two US soldiers.
Aug. 31, 2007
Taliban fighters under the command of Baitullah Mehsud captured a Pakistani regular Army company without firing a shot. The Taliban fighters surrounded the convoy as it moved through the tribal agency, and the Army commander surrendered. The soldiers were exchanged for Taliban prisoners.
South Waziristan, Pakistan
A large Taliban force estimated at 400 fighters overran a fort manned by the Frontier Corps in the town of Sararogha. The fort was taken after the Taliban breached an outer wall with a truck bomb. Sixteen Frontier Corps paramilitaries were killed and 24 were captured. A large force of Taliban fighters took control of the Saklatoi Fort the next day without firing a shot and conducted several complex attacks on the Lahda Fort but failed to take it.
July 1, 2008
A large Taliban, al Qaeda, and Haqqani Network force launched a complex military attack against a combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban coordinated indirect fire to maneuver its infantry. US and Afghan forces defeated the attack, killing 33 Taliban fighters.
July 13, 2008
A joint Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and al Qaeda force launched a complex military attack against a newly built combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan. The enemy force came close to overrunning the outpost. Nine US soldiers were killed in the assault.
Sept. 17, 2008
The Yemeni Islamic Brigades, an al Qaeda affiliate, launched a complex attack against the US Embassy in Sana’a. A car bomb detonated outside the main gate, and then assault teams opened fire on the Yemeni security forces outside the gates. Six terrorists, six Yemeni security guards, and four civilians were killed in the fighting.