Western powers have condemned a massive suicide bombing at Islamabad's luxury Marriott hotel which killed more than 50 people, among them the Czech ambassador to Pakistan, on Saturday.
A Pakistani official atop the gutted frame of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Sunday
The Czech ambassador to Pakistan, Ivo Zdarek, was identified as one of the victims of Saturday's suicide bombing that left at least 53 dead and more than 200 injured, Pakistani and Czech officials confirmed.
The 47-year-old diplomat had stayed in the Marriott temporarily because his residence was undergoing refurbishment and a security upgrade, Zuzana Opletalova, a spokeswoman for the Czech foreign ministry told AFP.
The Czech Ambassador Ivo Zdarek who was killed in the blast
After the blast, Zdarek called the embassy, saying he was only lightly injured but when his colleagues arrived the site was engulfed in flames, the government said.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Scvhwarzenberg vigorously denounced the attack which killed Zdarek.
"His death shows that the terrorists are trying to hit our most vulnerable spots. We will not waver from our path: we will always stand up to evil and combat evil," he said.
He also denounced the attack as an attempt to destabilize Pakistan in a crucial period after recent presidential elections.
"If fundamentalism imposes itself in Pakistan, the entire region will be destabilized, and that will have an impact also on the Czech
Republic," Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said on Czech television.
The Czech ambassador, who was married with two sons, was new to Pakistan. He assumed the post in August after four years in Vietnam.
Pakistan suspects al-Qaeda involvement
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack Saturday at the five-star Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, frequented by foreigners, which killed 53 people and injured 266 people, according to a toll announced Sunday.
But Pakistani investigators have said the bombing was likely carried out by al-Qaeda-linked Taliban militants from tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan.
Raging fire that completely destroyed the six-storey building held back the rescuers through the night before they could conduct room-to-room searches for survivors or bodies who died of suffocation or were burnt alive.
The blast caused massive destruction and gutted cars parked outside the hotel
Pakistan television broadcast a video Sunday of the bombing, showing that the attacker rammed the gates with his truck and then blew himself up minutes before the main blast.
Top interior ministry official Rehman Malik told a news conference that the driver apparently believed his huge truck, which carried around one ton of explosives, would be able to crash through the security barriers.
But the closed-circuit footage showed that it failed to get through a secondary barrier at the heavily-guarded hotel.
The driver apparently could not convince the guards to let down that barrier and so then blew himself up. In shock, the guards are seen hesitating for a few moments before racing to put out the fire from that explosion.
The main explosion happened a few minutes later. There is no footage of that because the blast destroyed the camera, Malik said.
The explosion shattered the windows of buildings and damaged structures near the hotel, which is located less than a kilometer from the residences of the prime minister and president.
The hotel was popular with diplomats, foreigners and influential Pakistani figures.
Worst attack in Islamabad since 2001
Saturday's attack was the worst in the capital, and came six months after a civilian government took power, and a month after it forced former army chief and staunch US ally Pervez Musharraf to step down as president.
President Zardari condemned the attack in a brief televised address to the nation early Sunday. "Terrorism is an epidemic, a cancer which we will eliminate at all costs," he said.
He called Pakistani a brave nation that would not be cowed by terrorist acts. "Pakistanis consider their lives a trust of Allah Almighty and have no fear of death as its day is fixed," he said.
Merkel, Bush, Brown denounce attack
The attack has sparked outrage around the world. Both European countries and the US were quick to denounce the incident.
President George W Bush said it was "a reminder of the ongoing threat faced by Pakistan, the United States, and all those who stand against violent extremism."
German Chancellor Merkel said the fight against transnational terrorism remained a top priority for affected countries like Pakistan and the international community.
"Germany will be continuing to support its partner Pakistan in efforts for stability and prosperity," she said in a statement.
A family mourns the loss of a member at a local hospital in Islamabad
"The people behind this horrible act must be found and brought to justice and every form of support for the terrorists must be opposed," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a letter of condolence to his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi and released in Berlin.
"We cannot say often enough that terror and violence must not be used as a tool in a political conflict," he added, condemning the attack "in the strongest terms."
Authorities in Berlin say seven Germans were wounded in the attack.
Speaking to Sky News television, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Saturday's bombing was "completely inexcusable, the violence is completely unacceptable."
Brown vowed that Britain would do everything it could to help Pakistan stamp out terrorism and added that he had discussed stepping up co-operation on counter-terrorism with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.
A statement from the European Union presidency, currently held by France, said the EU would "more than ever stand side by side" with Pakistan in its struggle against terrorism.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Sunday called the act "grotesque."
NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO remained committed to working with Pakistan, including the new government, to combat the shared threat of violent extremism.
Reports suggest US Marines were intended target
Media reports cited unnamed police officials as saying that a group of 30 US Marines, who were allegedly part of a security team for this week's visit of Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, might have been the intended targets of the attacker.
The US personnel were scheduled to leave for Afghanistan on Sunday morning, the private Urdu-language Aaj television channel said.
Hotel owner Sadruddin Hashwani said 39 victims, including three foreigners, were staff members. He vowed to fully renovate the hotel within four months.