A huge suicide truck bomb ripped through a luxury hotel Tuesday killing 11 people and wounding 52 in Pakistan’s Peshawar city, capital of a northwest province plagued by Taliban violence.
Two foreigners were among the dead in the devastating blast at the five-star Pearl Continental hotel, provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told AFP, but would not reveal the nationalities.
At least two gunmen in a pick-up truck entered the hotel compound, spraying security guards with bullets before ramming the vehicle into the building and detonating, with foreign nationals among those injured, police said.
It is the seventh deadly bombing to hit the troubled city in a month, as fears grow that Taliban militants are exacting revenge for a punishing six-week military offensive against them in three northwest districts.
“It was a suicide attack,” city police chief Sefwat Ghayur told AFP.
“Occupants of a double-cabin pick-up truck forced their way in, firing at the security guards. The attackers struck their vehicle into the hotel building, and it exploded on impact.”
Provincial police chief Malik Naveed told AFP: “Eleven people have been killed. The toll is likely to rise.”
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Senior police official Abdul Ghafoor Afridi told AFP that there were at least two attackers, and they were wearing security guard uniforms.
Chaos enveloped the hotel popular with dignitaries, officials and foreign visitors, with smoke billowing around the building in the high-security Khyber Road area of Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province.
“The blast was so huge that I thought my ear drums were damaged forever. I fell from the chair and saw others also falling and the glass shards scattered in the meeting room,” said charity worker and hotel client Zarshaid Khan.
“When I managed to get out of the room, I saw flames and security guards lead me to a safe side.”
Sahib Gul, a doctor at Peshawar’s main Lady Reading Hospital, said six foreigners were among the 52 injured.
Among them was a British citizen, the Foreign Office in London confirmed.
A United Nations worker was reported to be among the dead, a provincial official said.
Rows of balconies appeared to have been ripped off the face of the hotel, where rescue workers struggled to help those trapped inside. A clutch of United Nations vehicles were among dozens of charred cars parked outside.
The injured and confused stumbled among twisted metal, with rubble strewn among the once-manicured lawns of the hotel, just opposite the historic Bala Hisar Fort and Peshawar’s golf course.
“I was sitting in the eastern side of the hotel building and suddenly there was a huge blast which tumbled my chair and I fell on the ground. As I rose from the ground I saw flames and smoke,” hotel employee Ghulam Ahmed told AFP.
Senior police official Shafqat Malik told AFP that more than 500 kilograms of explosives were used. Witnesses said the blast shattered windows of a provincial assembly and Peshawar High Court nearby.
Tuesday’s attack echoes a suicide truck bomb attack on the luxury Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008 that killed 60 people.
Pakistan has been hit by a string of devastating attacks in recent weeks, with markets and security targets hit in Peshawar and police buildings targeted in Islamabad and the cultural capital Lahore.
On Friday, a suicide bomb ripped through a mosque packed with worshippers, also in the northwest of the country, killing 38 people and wounding dozens more in the deadliest such attack in more than two months.
The Taliban in Pakistan have warned of more “massive attacks” in retaliation for the military operations against them in Swat, Lower Dir and Buner.
The current US-backed campaign was launched when Taliban fighters advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad, flouting a deal to put three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.
There were signs Tuesday that the offensive was expanding outside the Swat valley, with residents and local officials reporting shelling near a Pakistan tribal area where the US alleges Al-Qaeda militants are holed up.
Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in Taliban-linked attacks across Pakistan since July 2007.