But the bomb's impact could be felt as far away as the country's capital, 700 miles to the north, where security measures have been at an all time high in anticipation of US President George W. Bushexpected to arrive in Islamabad at 9:30 pm Friday.
The explosion took place at 9:05 am on a heavily fortified backstreet between the hotel parking lot and the rear vehicle entrance of the US consulate. The sophistication of the attack suggested advance planning, and Foy's armored 4X4 appears to have been directly targeted. The entire street is closed to pedestrians and public transport, and all vehicles entering the area must pass stringent security precautions, including inspection of vehicle trunks and chassis. Yet, according to a security officer on the scene who has seen surveillance footage, a white Toyota Corolla passed the initial inspection at 8:45 am, and once inside the concrete barrier pulled over to the side. A man who appeared to be in his mid-30s in traditional Pakistani dress stepped out of the car and walked around for a while, seemingly waiting for someone.
Once he saw Foy's diplomatic vehicle pass through the security barrier, the man jumped into his car and rammed it into the 4X4, detonating a bomb with a force strong enough to obliterate both vehicles, shatter every window of the 10-story hotel's western face and send nearby military jeeps flying 50 feet over concrete barriers. More than 50 people have been reported gravely injured and television footage shows clothing, limbs and debris from the blast tangled in telephone and electricity wires.
In Islamabad, which has already been under virtual lockdown for the past week in anticipation of the President's visit, the bombing in Karachi only reinforced the precariousness of the country's security situation. While there has been no formal link as of yet between the bombing and the President's visit, Syed Marwat Ali Shah, the deputy inspector general of the Rawalpindi Police in charge of security admits that President Bush is clearly a target, and every precaution will be undertaken. “You are taking every possible eventuality into account and making preparations,” he says. “Then something happens where you are not expecting itin this case, Karachi. So you take even more measures. In this way we are even better prepared.”
In addition to the original security measuresincluding a perimeter around the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi through which only documented residents are allowed to passlarge trucks will no longer be allowed into the "red zone" in the east of the capital where diplomatic compounds, government buildings and international hotels are located, lest they be carrying explosives. Any one who enters the area must have photo documentation and express permission from the interior ministry.
Investigations into the attack continue, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has sworn to bring those responsible to justice. “This senseless act will not deter our strong resolve to pursue the relentless fight against the evil of terrorism,” he said in a message sent to New Delhi where President Bush is visiting before his trip to Pakistan. “We all must continue to work together to eliminate this threat.”
Meanwhile, President Bush announced in a televised news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he would not be dissuaded from his upcoming visit. “Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan,” he said, “this just shows that the war on terror must continue.”
Even before the bombing, residents of Pakistan's twin cities are resigning themselves to a weekend close to home. Unlike past visits by foreign leaders, there will be no welcoming crowds lining the streets and waving flags as the President goes by. And unlike in India, there won't even be protests. Bush will arrive in the dark of night, and all streets will be cleared before his passage. Even the spring festival of Basant, usually a joyous occasion celebrated with kite-fighting competitions, bright colors and traditional foods has been postponed until after President Bush leaves. That now seems very appropriate, since the bombing has only underscored how little there is to celebrate in the war on terror.
With reporting by Talat Hussein/Islamabad and Ghulam Hasnain/Karachi