Saturday, September 20, 2008




Since 9/11, the Marriott Hotel Chain has been the victim of six terrorist strikes mounted by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terroristorganisations. On four occasions---- thrice in Islamabad and once in Jakarta--- it was directly targeted. On the remaining two occasions (NewYork and Karachi) it was a collateral victim of a terrorist strike not directly targeting it.

2. On 9/11, the destruction of the two towers of the New York World Centre by Al Qaeda destroyed the New York Marriott World Trade CenterHotel and damaged the 504-room Marriott Financial Center located there. Some senior executives of the hotel chain, who had their officesin the towers, were killed.

3.On June 14, 2002,the Marriott Hotel in Karachi suffered minor damages when a suicide car bomb exploded near the US Consulate in thesame area. Eleven persons----mostly passers-by---were killed. The hotel was not targeted.On August 5, 2003, the Marriott Hotel in Jakartawas the direct target of an attack in which 14 people were killed. The pro-Al Qaeda Jemmah Islamiya was suspected. On October 28,2004,the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad suffered some damage to its lobby, as a bomb went off inside the hotel. Fifteen persons were injured,including an American diplomat.On January 26, 2007, an alleged suicide bomber and a private security guard, who stopped him forquestioning, were killed when the terrorist blew himself up in the parking lot of the hotel.

4. In the third attack directly targeting the hotel at Islamabad on September 20,2008, sixty persons---including some foreigners--- werereported to have been killed when a truck bomber carrying about one ton of explosive blew the truck up, when he was stopped forquestioning at the gate by the security guards. The explosion, which practically destroyed part of the hotel causing a major fire,, took placeon a day when physical security in Islamabad was very tight since only a few hours before the explosion President Asif Ali Zardariaddressed a joint session of the two houses of the Parliament. The Parliament House, the Presidency, the Prime Minister's House, offices ofministers, the judges colony and the housing colony of some of the staff of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are located near the hotel.

5. Hotels and restaurants with suspected Jewish ownership have been among the favourite targets of Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaedaorganisations. Al Qaeda had also targeted the Hilton Hotel in Sharm-el-Sheikh in 2005 and the Jewish-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa in2002. Pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorists had targeted French submarine construction engineers staying in the Sheraton Hotel of Karachi inMay,2002.

6. Apart from suspected Jewish ownership, another reason for the targeting of the Marriott hotels in Jakarta and Islamabad are the factthat often Western Embassies in these capitals use these hotels for providing accommodation to their staff and visiting officials. They alsohire a large number of rooms in the hotels for temporarily locating some of their offices till permanent accommodation is found.

7. Pakistani authorities suspect thast the explosion of September 20,2008, might have been carried out by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan(TTP) in retaliation for the current operation s of the Pakistani security forces in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)and in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Another suspicion voiced by them is that the Parliament Housemight have been the real target of the attack and that the bomber instead went to the hotel when he found that access control to theParliament House was tight.

8. Even though it may turn out to be correct that the suicide bomber was a Pashtun tribal from the TTP, Al Qaeda involvement in theplanning and execution is a strong possibility. Since the commando raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July last year, the TTP and individual terrorists acting on their own have repeatedly demonstrated a capability for terrorist strikes in highly-protected areas inIslamabad, Rawalpindi, where the General Headquarters of the Army are located, and other cantonments. They had even targeted the GHQitself as well as the offices of the ISI. In most of these cases, the explosions took place under identical circumstances----the suicide bombertriggering the explosion when stopped for questioning by the security personnel.

9. Since the beginning of 2007, there have been nearly 300 suicide explosions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most of these strikes arebelieved to have originated from Pakistan's tribal belt where Al Qaeda and the Taliban have their sanctuaries. These statistics and thecontinuing wave of suicide strikes or attempted strikes show the inexhaustible availability of explosives and detonators and volunteers forsuicide terrorism in the tribal belt. Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan nor the US nor the other NATO forces have been able to come out with aworkable answer to the question as to how to dry up these sources of supply. Unless an answer is found to this question, one has to watchhelplessly as suicide bombers spread death and destruction. Whereas in India, the jihadi terrorists have been switching over to commonlyavailable material such as a mix of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, the terrorists in Pakistan seem to have a plentiful supply of highmilitary-grade explosives. (21-9-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: )