09/29/2008, 00.00
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Marriot hotel bombing, a response to anti-terrorist offensive

by Qaiser Felix
Army sources explain ongoing offensive against al-Qaeda extremists, saying the hotel attack was a response to their success. The country is pervaded by an atmosphere of terror as people wait for the next major attack.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Military sources said that a vast offensive is underway against the Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists in the Bajaur region near the Afghan border, a key element in the “war on terror”. The 20 September blast against the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad was the terrorists’ furious response to that offensive

Since August troops backed by helicopter gunships and fighter jets have pushed forward in the face of bunkers, tunnel networks and organised defences constructed by extremists, said Major General Tariq Khan, head of the paramilitary Frontier Corps force, which is leading the fighting.

The offensive has not yet broken through the enemy lines but the “operation should be completed in another month and a half,” he said. “This is at the centre” of the extremist stronghold and it is here that the Pakistani military has met the staunchest resistance since operations began in 2003.

The military says that a thousand extremists have been killed, including al-Qaeda's operational commander in Bajaur. At least 27 troops and dozens of civilians have also died with a third of Bajaur's population of 1 million displaced.

Experts believe that the rebels cannot afford to lose this stronghold; for this reason they struck in Islamabad killing at 60 people.

Now the country is scared and uncertain, fearful that other attacks might hit the big cities.

People are staying away from crowded places. Many receptions in hotels have been cancelled and hotels are empty.

The embassies of the United Kingdom and the United States suspended their visa and consular services because of security concerns.

The US Embassy has banned US government officials from visiting major hotels and restaurants in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore. They have also been advised not to visit markets and other public places unless there is a compelling need to do so.

Islamabad’s International School, more popularly known as the American School, closed last week after receiving a “specific threat”. The school’s branches in Lahore and Karachi were also closed.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, newly-elected President Zardari called for international help to fight terrorism in Pakistan, presenting his country as a ‘victim of terrorism’.

All 36 airports were placed on a state of ‘red alert’. A hoax call created panic and delayed a flight at Lahore airport. No bomb was fund.

British Airways cancelled its six weekly flights to Islamabad last week because of security reasons.

In the meantime resentment is growing in the country against the United States, held responsible for the country’s instability because of its “war on terror.”

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