09/22/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pakistan, five arrested in Marriott attack

by Qaiser Felix
The Pakistani government has launched an offensive to flush out the authors of the massacre that killed 53 people and wounded another 266. Unanimous condemnation from the Catholic Church and the political world, which considers the massacre a Pakistani "9/11". British Airways suspends its flights to the country.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Pakistani security forces have launched a manhunt to flush out those responsible for the bombing attack on Saturday evening (about 7:30 PM local time) that ripped apart the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, killing 53 people - including the Czech ambassador to Pakistan, Ivo Zdarek - and wounding at least 266.

Today, police arrested three people at a mosque in Kharian, a city in the province of Punjab; according to the Dawn News channel, those arrested include Qari Muhammad Ali, the imam of the city's mosque. In a similar operation in the city of Gujranwala, also in the eastern province of Punjab, two activists connected to Al Qaeda were arrested, one of whom has been sought for some time for an assassination attempt on former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. There is no official information, however, on the operations underway and on possible further developments.

According to the Pakistani television station Geo TV, emergency responders have finished their work amid the rubble of the hotel, exploring all of the 298 rooms looking for new victims or possible survivors. Engineers say the structure and foundation of the building, although they suffered serious damage following the devastating explosion - from almost 1,000 kilograms of explosives loaded into a truck - withstood the blast, and there is no danger of a future collapse. Confirmation is also coming from the Pakistani owner of the Marriott, Sadruddin Hashwani, who says that he intends to rebuild the structure within three months, and that none of the employees will lose their jobs.

For security reasons, however, British Airways has decided to suspend its flights to Pakistan in anticipation of further developments.

There is unanimous condemnation of the attack from the political and religious world, many referring to it as a "Pakistani 9/11", comparing it to the massacre in America in September of 2001. Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani has said that the true targets of the attack were parliament and the offices of the prime minister, but because security forces had been deployed there, the suicide bomber changed the target at the last moment. He does not rule out collaborating with U.S. intelligence - "if the need arises", the prime minister emphasizes - to discover the masterminds of the attack, and is calling the country "to calm and unity". Gillani adds that "poverty, backwardness, and the lack of prospects" are elements that contribute to spreading discontent in tribal areas, and for this reason the government is planning a "massive development campaign" to support the local economy.

The Catholic Church also "condemns the suicide attack", and expresses its "condolences to the relatives of the victims". Contacted by AsiaNews, the archbishop of Lahore and president of the Pakistani bishops' conference, Lawrence John Saldanha, denounces the killing of "innocent victims", and stresses that he will pray for them and their relatives. This prayer was extended to all the churches of Pakistan, on the occasion of yesterday's Sunday Mass. Fr Bonnie Mendes, a Catholic priest of the diocese of Faisalabad, affirms that "the war on terror" has become a "domestic issue for Pakistan", and that the country must "unite" in a struggle to defeat "the terrorists". "An attack of this magnitude", Fr Mendes concludes, "is a signal from the terrorists; they want to tell us that they are capable of striking anyone, anywhere in the country".

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