The Marriott Blast: Was Denmark The Target? – International Terrorism Monitor: Paper No. 449

Paper no. 2853 22-Sep.-2008
The Marriott Blast: Was Denmark The Target? – International Terrorism Monitor: Paper No. 449

By B. Raman

There are some indications that Denmark might have been the target of the massive blast directed at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on the night of September 20, 2008. While no organisation has so far claimed responsibility for the blast, the hand of Al Qaeda is suspected. According to IntelCenter, a US-based group which monitors and analyzes the Internet-based communications of Al Qaeda and its associates, a senior Al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid had threatened attacks against Western interests in Pakistan in a video disseminated on the recent anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

2.  However, in an investigative report carried by the “News” of September 22, 2008, Amir Mir, the well-informed Pakistani journalist, has stated that Pakistani investigators suspect that the blast must have been carried out by the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), which is a member of the Al Qaeda-led International Islamic Front (IIF), formed by bin Laden in 1998.

3. Amir Mir has reported  as follows: “According to intelligence circles in Islamabad, which are probing the latest suicide attack, the method of the bombing and the nature of explosives resemble four previous vehicle bomb attacks, carried out by suicide bombers in Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi —- the March 4, 2008 attack on the Naval War College building in Lahore; the March 11, 2008 suicide bombings targeting the headquarters of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Lahore; the June 3, 2008 attack outside the Danish Embassy in Islamabad; and the December, 25, 2003 twin suicide attacks targeting former President General Pervez Musharraf’s cavalcade in Rawalpindi. The bombers used different types of vehicles, laden with high-intensity explosives to hit their targets. The investigators say about 600 kilograms of explosives were used in the Marriott Hotel attack which created a 25 feet deep and 50 feet wide crater.
They have concluded that the material used in Saturday’s attack was a mix of cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine or RDX and trinitrotoluene or TNT explosives. RDX is used as a major component in many plastic bonded explosives to increase their intensity while TNT is usually used to shatter concrete structures and hillocks. The investigators say the similar mix of RDX and TNT explosives had been used in the four earlier attacks in Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore, which were carried out by operatives of the HUJI.”

4. While Al Qaeda had claimed the responsibility for the blast outside the Danish Embassy in Islamabad on June 3, 2008, it did not in respect of the other strikes mentioned by Amir Mir. Al Qaeda targeted the Danish Embassy in protest against the cartoons on the Holy Prophet carried by the Danish media. It continues to call for more attacks on Danish targets.

5. After the controversy over the cartoons broke out two years ago, Denmark had drastically reduced the strength of its home-based staff in its Embassy in Islamabad. It was running a truncated mission with the help of either Pakistani recruits or Danish citizens of Pakistani origin. However, it is learnt that it was having a small office in the Marriott Hotel, which was staffed by officers of the Danish intelligence agency responsible for counter-terrorism. They were monitoring the developments relating to terrorism in Pakistan and maintaining a liaison with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The information about the presence of a small cell of the Danish intelligence in the hotel seems to have leaked out to Al Qaeda.

6.  The official figures of fatalities in the blast are 53. Of these, one has been described  as a Danish citizen. Another Danish citizen is stated to be missing. An Agence France Press (AFP) report from Copenhagen says as follows: “A Danish intelligence agent is missing after Saturday’s devastating suicide bomb attack on the Marriott hotel in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, Denmark’s Foreign Minister said on Sunday.”We are talking about a member of the intelligence services stationed at the embassy in Islamabad, with no sign of life,” Per Stig Moeller told TV2 news channel. “What we have heard is that a Dane likely figures among the dead. If that proves to be the case, it would be profoundly tragic,” he added, because he had been sent to Pakistan to improve security for Danish staff there. The Danish intelligence agency, PET, said in a separate statement that one of its agents, a security advisor, had been posted missing, presumed dead. A second PET official was unhurt, it said. Earlier, the Foreign Ministry’s head of diplomacy Klavs Holm told AFP that teams were scouring the city’s hospitals and other places looking for the missing national. “Several other Danes were in the hotel, they have been slightly hurt” in the explosion, Holm said, adding that these people, three in number, were all employed by the Danish Embassy in Islamabad. Saturday’s suicide blast was “an attack on cooperation between Pakistan and the international community, because these Islamists, these fanatics, want to break relations between the West and the democratically-elected Pakistani Government,” he added.

7. Media reports have quoted Lou Fintor, a spokesman of the US Embassy in Islamabad, as saying that there was no evidence that Americans were the target.  However, two US Defense Department employees were among the dead and  a third American—a State Department contractor—was missing. Three U.S. Embassy employees and an embassy contractor were injured, Fintor said.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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