INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR—PAPER NO. 534
( To be read in continuation of my article of May 27,2009, titled “Sixth Major Swarm Attack Since Mumbai: Is There a Common Command & Control” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers33/paper3217.html )
At least 16 persons, including two foreigners (a Serb and a Filippino), are reported to have been killed and over 60 others injured when a group of three terrorists forced their way into the parking lot of the Pearl Continental Hotel of Peshawar at around 10-30 PM on June 9,2009, and blew up an explosive-laden truck.
2.Two terrorists with hand-held weapons, who were believed to have been traveling in a car, engaged with the guards at the security barrier near the gate of the hotel in an exchange of fire and enabled the truck bomber drive into the parking lot. It is not known what happened to the two terrorists with hand-held weapons. They have not been captured.
3.The attack resembled the one on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September last in some aspects. The Marriott and the Pearl Continental Hotels are run by the same person. Whereas the Marriott is patronized by traveling foreign businessmen, public servants and non-governmental personalities, the Pearl Continental has a clientele restricted largely to traveling foreign public servants, in addition to Pakistani nationals.
4. As in Islamabad, in Peshawar too, the daring attack was in a high security area. At both the places, the failure of physical security was not at the hotels, but along the route on which the vehicles moved to the hotels. None of the security pickets on the route suspected anything amiss and tried to prevent the movement of the vehicles towards the hotels. Once the trucks with explosives reached the gates of the hotels very little could have been done to prevent the explosions.
5.The Peshawar hotel is located in the same area in which the Corps Commander of Peshawar lives.He enjoys the highest level of security among all Corps Commanders since he co-ordinates and supervises the military operations against Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. The Pearl Continental was considered a highly vulnerable target because it is used as a transit hotel for traveling UN employees and is also patronized by the US and other Western diplomatic and consular missions for their traveling public servants. However, the US Consulate in Peshawar has stated that no American employee was staying in the hotel at the time of the explosion. Despite this, well-informed sources In Peshawar say the staff of some of the US training teams, which have been training personnel of the Frontier Corps and other para-military forces, used to stay in the hotel in the past. The Serb killed was reportedly an employee of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Filippino, a woman, of the UN Children’s Emergency Fund. Both of them had reportedly arrived in Peshawar along with some other UN employees to work for the persons internally displaced by the military operations against the Pakistani Taliban.
6.The Marriott Hotel blast involved only a vehicular bomb, which exploded as the vehicle stopped at the security barrier before it could enter the hotel premises. At the Pearl Continental, the initial use of hand-held weapons enabled the vehicle cross the barrier and reach the parking lot. Despite this the fatalities at the Peshawar hotel were low as compared with the fatalities at the Islamabad hotel (56) because the occupancy rate in the Peshawar hotel was low due to the poor security situation in Peshawar.
7. The investigation into the Marriott Hotel blast has not made satisfactory progress. The police claimed to have arrested four “indirect” suspects in Islamabad on October 23,2008, and another four at Karachi on May 17,2009. They linked the Karachi suspects to Al Qaeda, but there has been no corroboration.
8.There has been a predictable sameness in the spins put out by the police--- initially blame the Pakistani Taliban, project the attacks as in revenge for the military operations against the Taliban, then bring in the name of Al Qaeda when some arrests are made and then silence till another attack takes place.
9. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the anti-Shia organization, which has been collaborating with Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, is another oft-cited suspect, again without any clinching evidence so far.
10.The quick succession of successful attacks in different cities shows an ability to plan and carry out strikes without being detected, a certain precision in the planning and execution and an inexhaustible flow of suicide volunteers.
11. A worrisome thought---- what is the use of winning Swat, if Peshawar is out of control? (10-6-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )