ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A security guard blocked a suicide bomber who triggered a blast at an entrance to a luxury hotel in Islamabad Friday, killing the guard and wounding seven other people in the first terror strike in the Pakistani capital since 2005.
The explosion wrecked a side entrance leading to a nightclub in the basement of the five-star Marriott Hotel, located in a downtown area near the Parliament building and the office of the president.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the "brave and timely action by the hotel guards prevented a major attack, as the suicide bomber could not enter the hotel building, which seemed to be his target."
There was no claim of responsibility. However, Sherpao said the explosion was the work of "anti-state elements who want to create unrest."
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the bombing and reiterated Pakistan's "unwavering commitment in the fight against extremism and terrorism," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Pakistan has suffered numerous bombings in recent years, often by Islamic militants angered by its support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, although such attacks in the federal capital are comparatively rare.
Last week, a pro-Taliban militant leader in the remote tribal region of South Waziristan vowed to avenge a Pakistani airstrike on a suspected al-Qaida hideout near the Afghan border that killed at least eight people. A suicide car bombing killed four Pakistani soldiers in neighboring North Waziristan on Monday.
Rana Najam, a housekeeping manager at the multistory Marriott Hotel, said witnesses recalled seeing a man running toward the side entrance, where he was stopped by the security guard. The man then detonated explosives, killing himself and the guard, he said.
An intelligence official at the scene of Friday's attack identified the dead guard as Mohammed Tariq and said that at least seven other people were wounded. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Police official Abdul Ghaffar said one other hotel guard was in a critical condition.
Scores of police used wooden boards and white sheets to seal off the scene, but an Associated Press reporter could see that the side entrance was badly damaged.
Two shoes — from different pairs — and strips of clothes could be seen among lumps of masonry strewn across a road next to the entrance. Windshields of two cars parked nearby were shattered.
The hotel, often frequented by Islamabad's foreign community, was targeted in an October 2004 bombing that wounded several people. There were no reports of foreigners hurt in Friday's blast.
The last major terrorist attack in the city was in May 2005, when a suicide bomber killed 20 people in the Bari Imam shrine, the burial place of a famed Shiite saint.
The U.S. Embassy strongly advised all Americans to avoid the area of Friday's bombing, exercise caution, and limit unnecessary travel.
Security is already high in Islamabad and the rest of Pakistan amid fears of sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims during Ashoura, a Shiite religious festival starting Monday.