Pakistan luxury hotel bombing toll rises to 16
Taliban blamed for hotel blast that injured 57
Pakistani police Wednesday scoured the charred rooms of a luxury hotel in northwest Peshawar for clues after a suicide car bomb killed 16 people in the city troubled by Taliban violence.
A top provincial official said the massive blast at the Pearl Continental Hotel late Tuesday was likely the latest in a string of revenge attacks by militants over a six-week offensive against them in the northwest.
Hunting for the dead, police moved from room-to-room in the five-star hotel, large parts of which were reduced to rubble when at least two attackers shot security guards and then slammed an explosives-laden truck into the building.
Five more bodies were pulled from the dust and rubble early Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 16, police said, with more victims feared trapped under the debris.
"The blast is a reaction to the army offensive in Swat and Malakand. The possibility of this type of terrorist attack cannot be ruled out in future," North West Frontier Province information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.
The number of casualties could rise as we fear that some people are still trapped under the debris
Senior police official Abdul Ghafoor Afridi
Deadly bomb blasts
Peshawar police chief Sefwat Ghayur released the new death toll, while senior police official Abdul Ghafoor Afridi told AFP that 57 people were injured, including some foreigners.
"The number of casualties could rise as we fear that some people are still trapped under the debris," Afridi said.
"One portion of the hotel was totally destroyed. Three people including the manager of the hotel are missing and we fear they are under the debris."
Two foreign United Nations employees -- Serbian national Aleksandar Vorkapic who worked for the refugee agency (UNHCR), and Perseveranda So of the Philippines who worked for UNICEF -- were killed, the U.N. announced.
Dozens of aid workers were staying at the classy hotel before heading out to refugee camps in North West Frontier Province, where Pakistan launched military action in three districts on April 26 to try to crush Taliban rebels.
The air and ground assault in Swat, Lower Dir and Buner has sent up to two million people fleeing their homes, cramming into relatives' houses or hastily-set up camps.
The blast is a reaction to the army offensive in Swat and Malakand. The possibility of this type of terrorist attack cannot be ruled out in future
North West Frontier Province Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the bombing -- the seventh deadly bombing in Peshawar in a month -- a "heinous terrorist attack which no cause can justify."
Early reports suggest at least two men dressed as security guards shot their way through a security barrier and into the hotel compound, where they managed to detonate about 500 kilograms of explosives packed in a pick-up truck.
Pakistan has been hit by a string of deadly bomb blasts in recent weeks in Peshawar, Islamabad and the cultural capital Lahore, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for some of them and warning of more "massive attacks".
No group has yet claimed responsibility for Tuesday's hotel blast, and Hussain said a committee had been set up to investigate.
"Police experts are collecting evidence from the spot and debris of the hotel. They have also recorded statements from the hotel employees and those present at the scene," he told AFP.
"We have already alerted all the security and law enforcement agencies and we have declared a high alert in Peshawar and other cities."
Police experts are collecting evidence from the spot and debris of the hotel. They have also recorded statements from the hotel employees and those present at the scene