A massive truck bomb destroyed half of Islamabad's best-known hotel Saturday, killing at least 40 people, wounding more than 250 and leaving a crater 25 feet deep.
Locals who arrived on the scene minutes after the bombing said they saw many additional dead bodies lying the rubble, and officials fear the death toll will increase significantly as rescue teams continue work at the scene.
Just after 8 p.m. local time, an apparent suicide bomber blew himself up as his vehicle was being checked at the luxury Marriott Hotel's entrance, only about 50 feet from the lobby.
The bomb was felt as far as 15 miles away. Within 500 feet of the blast, buildings and trees were shredded, cars crushed and the air heavy with acrid smoke. The bomb was estimated to contain at least 800 pounds of explosives, according to Interior Minister Kamal Shah, but late Sunday local and foreign investigators were saying it was likely much bigger.
"I have retrieved at least 35 to 40 bodies," Amjad Ali Khan told ABC News outside the hotel, his clothes stained with blood. "Some people had brains coming out of their heads."
To walk along the front of the hotel 30 minutes after the bomb exploded was to walk through a war zone. Rubble was piled ten feet high, electric wires sparkled against pools of water and gas, mangled iron gates poked out of the mud, warped by the power of one of Islamabad's largest-ever explosions.
Inside the lobby, the reception desk had been crushed by debris, a piano was thrown against a wall, and a fish flopped against the marble, its glass aquarium lying shattered next to it. For one hour after the blast, volunteers and rescue workers ferried a series of bloodied and dead bodies out to waiting ambulances. This reporter saw at least 8 dead bodies lying in the rubble of the lobby.
Shah told ABC News the government had recently deployed army soldiers in Islamabad after receiving a warning of an imminent attack on the city.
"We had no specific information about the Marriott, but we had information that terrorists were planning to strike inside the capital city," he told ABC News.
The Marriott is one of the most popular places to stay for foreigners, diplomats and Pakistani elite, and is one of the few places in Islamabad allowed to serve alcohol. The bomb exploded at the height of dinner time, when Muslims were eating at the hotel's three restaurants to break their Ramadan fasts.
On this night the hotel was also playing host to out-of-town politicians who had come to Islamabad to listen to President Asif Ali Zardari's first address to parliament. The five-star hotel has been the target of three previous car bombs, but none nearly this large.
No one had claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the Taliban and its allies have been vowing to strike in Pakistan's cities since the military launched a major operation along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
A tape released on the anniversary of September 11, which had been blocked from release until Friday, called for new attacks on Pakistan because of its role as a "puppet regime" of the United States.
The 90-minute tape, "Results of Seven Years of Crusades," featured a long statement from a senior al Qaeda leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazidd, who called on sympathizers in Pakistan to act.