by Sultan Ahmad
On Saturday September 20, 2008 around 8:00 PM, the capital of Pakistan presented a horrific scene after a suicide bomber attacked the Marriot Hotel in the heart of Islamabad. The attack resulted in loss of 53
lives leaving 265 innocent people injured. The whole building was surrounded by fire and smoke while a number of other buildings got damages of varying degrees in the surrounding areas.
Immediately after the incident, FOCUS was in close coordination with Pakistan Army and other law enforcing agencies. The FOCUS SAR team from Karachi comprising of 18 members arrived at Islamabad on the morning of 21 September 2008. Lead by the Consultant, the team took briefing from the Army, hotel management and other security agencies before the operation. Search of the entire building (5 floors and basement) was carried out by the team in small groups. There was no living person found but 4 dead bodies were identified and recovered. The search operation continued for almost 5 hours.
Key features of the operation, from FOCUS’ point of view were:
• It was the first real time exposure for this team to work in a disastrous situation of this magnitude. The building was completely under fire and smoke, however the team managed to work through enormous heat and rubble. Now the team has become more confident about handling such situations in real scenario.
• The inner side of the building was completely dark and the team members used head lights while searching.
• The team identified some dead bodies and also recovered some important official documents of Pakistan Air Force which were then handed over to relevant authorities.
• While carrying out the operation, the team got good coverage in the media. Three TV channels i.e. Aaj, PTV1 and Dawn News covered the activities of FOCUS team.
• Although the media was strictly banned to enter the building, a number of media persons contacted the Executive Officer outside the building and recorded his interview. The major channels included: CNN, Al-Jazeera, BBC, ARY and GEO. Some of those have already aired the interview.
The contributor is the communication officer of FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, an affiliate of AKDN.