ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN // The luxury Marriott hotel in Islamabad was set to reopen today, just three months after it was destroyed in a suicide truck bombing that killed 60 people. The attacker rammed a truck full of explosives into the outer gates of the hotel on Sept 20, sending shockwaves through the capital.
Sadruddin Hashwani, 68, the owner of the Marriott and one of Pakistan's richest men, pledged immediately after the attack that he would rebuild the 289-room hotel, making it a "fortress" and "even better than before". Three months later, an army of 2,000 labourers have restored the hotel to its former lustre. A grand piano and glistening chandeliers grace the new lobby. The old one, which had a glass atrium, shattered in the attack.
The facility - located near Pakistan's parliament and other key government buildings - is also now surrounded by a massive security wall. "The hotel will be fully functional from today, with the re-opening of all eight restaurants, coffee shops and the conference rooms," Khawar Jameel, a spokesman for Hashwani's Hashoo group, said. Travellers will have to wait a few more days to sleep in the 60 rooms now available, with check-in starting from Thursday, as hotel management decided at the last minute to test all the fixtures before allowing guests to stay.
The hotel's new bombproof wall - which is 3.5metres high - is capable of absorbing the shock of even a massive explosion like the one in September, said Hashoo chief operating officer Peter Alex. Visitors will have to pass through a bombproof room within the wall in order to gain access to the hotel, which will feature sophisticated scanning equipment, he said. There will however be no parking at the hotel. Even vehicles ferrying VIPs to the Marriott will have to deposit guests at the front gate and drive on.
The hotel is due to be fully operational in March, when all 289 rooms will be available to guests. Officials have blamed the September attack on the extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has links to al Qa'eda. A total of six people have been detained in connection with the bombing. Hundreds of nearby buildings were damaged in the attack. Among the victims were the Czech ambassador to Pakistan, two Americans and a Vietnamese woman.
"The Marriott's reconstruction has sent a strong signal that no terrorist can wipe out the vitality of the people of Pakistan, who want to live a normal life," defence analyst Talat Masood said. * AFP