ISLAMABAD – Was there a top secret operation of the US Marines going on inside the Marriott in Islamabad when it was attacked on Saturday evening? No one will confirm it but circumstantial evidence is in abundance.
A group of 30 US Marines, allegedly part of a security team for this week’s visit of Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Islamabad might have been the intended targets of the truck-bomb attack that killed 53 people in the hotel and injured up to 266 others.
Witnesses said the Marines unloaded a US embassy truckload of steel boxes and shifted them inside the Marriott Hotel on Wednesday, the same night that Admiral Mullen met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and others in Islamabad. It was a high-security operation carried out with both the main gates of the hotel closed. Only the US Marines could approach the truck to unload the steel boxes and shift them inside the hotel.
Hotel sources said the boxes were not passed through the scanners installed at the entrance of the lobby and were shifted to the fourth and fifth floors of the Marriott.
Among several people who witnessed the whole thing were PPP parliamentarian Mumtaz Alam Gilani and his two friends, Sajjad Chaudhry, a PPP leader, and one Bashir Nadeem. The leading English language daily The News said Alam Gilani and his friends were leaving the Nadia restaurant of the Marriott at midnight when they found a white US embassy truck parked right in front of the hotel’s main entrance and almost a dozen well-built US Marines in fatigues unloading the steel boxes and taking them into the hotel without passing through the scanners. A third PPF friend of Gilani, who was waiting for the hotel’s main gates to open to get his car in, was informed on enquiry that the boxes were being shifted to the fourth and fifth floors.
Gilani was furious over having to wait and also over the security lapse he was witnessing. He protested but the Marines ignored him and the security men he approached were helpless.
Gilani was heard telling his friends that he would never visit the hotel again. He also threatened to raise the issue in parliament.