Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami, a Pakistani terrorist outfit with close links to the Al-Qaeda, is now suspected to have carried out Saturday's devastating bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad which killed 53 people, including four foreigners, a media report said.
So far, the needle of suspicion for the suicide bombing--the deadliest in Pakistan--was on the Pakistani Taliban.
Quoting intelligence officials probing the attack on the Marriott, The News daily reported that the pattern of the attack on the Marriott pointed to the possible involvement of HuJI and its leader Qari Saifullah Akhtar and not the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has been blamed for most recent suicide bombings in the country.
HuJI is known to maintain close links with Al-Qaeda, at whom a finger of suspicion has been pointed by Pakistani experts for the Marriott bombing.
In the massive manhunt launched aftermath of the suicide bombing, investigators said that they believe that the bombers constructed the massive 600-kg truck bomb in the capital, since all lorries entering Islamabad are searched at checkpoints. So the main thrust of the investigators is to locate the 'safe houses' and HuJI and al-Qaeda cells in the capital.
Media reports said that in all probability the bombers could have smuggled explosives into Islamabad in smaller consignments and then constructed the deadly truck bomb. A suicide bomber rammed a truck packed with high intensity explosives, including RDX and TNT, into the main gate of the Marriott on Saturday and detonated the payload.
Asked about the motive of targeting the Marriott, the investigators said the hotel, a favourite with Westerners, is seen as an American symbol and the attack could have been carried out as a retaliation to recent strikes by US-led forces in the border areas of Pakistan.
They also said over a dozen US Marines were staying in the hotel when it was attacked. The intelligence officials said the method of the attack on the five-star hotel and the type of explosives used were similar to four previous suicide car bomb attacks carried out by HuJI operatives in Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. These were the attacks on the Naval War College in Lahore on March 4, the suicide bombing of the headquarters of the Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore on March 11, the suicide attack on the Danish embassy in Islamabad on June 3 and the twin suicide attacks targeting former President Pervez Musharraf's motorcade in Rawalpindi in 2003.
In all these attacks, the bombers used vehicles packed with high-intensity explosives. A mix of RDX and TNT, both military grade explosives, was used in the attack on the Marriott. Investigators said a similar mix of RDX and TNT was used in the four earlier attacks by HuJI.
The March 11 bombing of the headquarters of the Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore was following by a near-simultaneous suicide attack on an advertising agency's office in the Model Town area that was confused by the bomber for an undercover office of the Special Investigation Authority. Six suspects of the HuJI, who were arrested after the attack on the Naval War College, were held at the FIA headquarters in Lahore for interrogation by the intelligence agencies.
Agencies investigating these attacks had concluded that they were carried out by HuJi as retaliation for the arrest of its chief Qari Saifullah Akhtar near Lahore on February 26.
Akhtar was arrested in connection with the October 18, 2007 suicide attack on the homecoming procession of Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto in Karachi that killed over 140 people.
On March 15, four days after the suicide attack on the FIA headquarters, terrorists targeted an Islamabad restaurant - a popular hang out of foreign nationals.
A Turkish woman was killed and several Americans, including three FBI agents who had come to Pakistan to investigate the FIA attack, were injured.
Subsequent investigations showed the involvement of HUJI operatives in the attack on the restaurant. On March 26, Akhtar was released on bail after the investigating officer in his case reported to a court that no evidence had been found that the jihadi leader was linked to any terrorist activity.
The judge ordered Akhtar's release on bail but he was rearrested under the Maintenance of Public Order and taken to a Karachi safe house.
Five days after the suicide car bombing at the Danish embassy in Islamabad, Akhtar was released by the Sindh home department, which said the term for his detention had expired.
The report said there were many among official circles who believed that the release was "actually facilitated by intelligence agencies in an apparent bid to stop the deadly wave of suicide bombings which had been let loose by the followers of Qari Saifullah".
Akhtar was one of the few Pakistani jihadi leaders who escaped with Taliban leader Mullah Omar after US-led forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.
Akhtar took shelter in South Waziristan before moving to Peshawar. Akhtar then fled to Saudi Arabia, from where he decided to move to the United Arab Emirates.
On August 6, 2004, Akhtar was arrested by the UAE authorities and handed over to Pakistan.
He was arrested following certain revelations during the investigation of the December 25, 2003 suicide attacks on former President Musharraf, when two suicide bombers tried to ram their explosive-laden cars into his motorcade.
Investigations revealed that one of the suicide bombers, Khalique Ahmed alias Hazir Sultan, belonged to the HuJI and was hired by Akhtar's right-hand man Amjad Hussain Farooqui to target Musharraf.