By SJA Jafri + Bureau Report
ISLAMABAD/ KARACHI: The United States embassy in Islamabad has warned its staff of a possible attack on Americans at a top hotel as Pakistan’s capital is already on high alert two days after a suicide bombing.
The US government has obtained information that “unknown individuals are possibly plotting to attack Americans at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad sometime during the holidays”, the embassy said in a security alert on Sunday.
The advisory banned US embassy staff and other nationals from visiting the popular hotel over the Christmas holiday.
The US mission also urged all personnel to refrain from non-essential travel in Islamabad during the holiday season.
The embassy directive followed a suicide bombing in a residential area of Islamabad on Friday, which killed a police officer and wounded 10 people.
The explosion happened when police stopped a taxi for inspection during a patrol. According to police, a rear seat passenger detonated explosives he was carrying.
The Pakistani Taliban, which is separate from but allied with Afghanistan’s rulers, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The government has put Islamabad on high alert, banning public gatherings and processions even as campaigning is under way for local elections.
Police have stepped up patrols and established snap checkpoints to inspect vehicles across the city.
A suicide bombing targeted Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel in September 2008 in one of the deadliest such incidents in the capital. Attackers drove a dump truck up to the hotel’s gates before detonating it, killing 63 people and wounding more than 250.
Earlier, a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, has killed at least one police officer and wounded several other people, according to officials.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) armed group, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack in a text message sent to media.
The bombing took place near the police headquarters on a main road that leads to government buildings housing the country’s parliament and high offices. At least four police officers and two civilians were wounded in the blast, according to reports.
The car that was used in the attack was packed with explosives and headed for a high-value target in Islamabad, the interior ministry said in a statement, without giving any other details.
“Our initial information says that there was a man and a woman in the car,” Sohail Zafar, Islamabad operations police chief, told reporters. The car did not stop at the checkpoint when police tried to halt it, he said.
“As they chased it, the people inside the car blew it up. It was a suicide blast,” added Zafar.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Geo News TV that had “the car reached its target, it would have caused heavy losses”.
The capital was on high alert due to threats of such an attack, and a big tragedy was averted with timely intervention, the minister said.
The TTP has been fighting Pakistan’s government since 2007 and has carried out dozens of attacks aimed at civilians and security forces across the country.
Last month, it announced an end to a ceasefire agreed with the government in June.