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Pakistani President Pledges To Fight Terror After Blast

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said a suspected car bomb in Islamabad that has killed at least 52 people was cowardly and promised to fight terrorism.

The bomb exploded on September 20 outside the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, trapping many inside the burning building and leaving a crater up to 6 meters deep.

In a televised address to the nation on September 21, Zardari said that terrorism was "a cancer in Pakistan which we will root out."

The attack came just hours after Zardari had made his first address to a joint session of parliament, pledging that Pakistan would not tolerate any infringement of its territory in the name of the fight against militants and stressing that his country must root out terrorists.

Television images soon after the blast showed bodies being carried away and huge flames pouring out of the five-story hotel, a carefully guarded facility that is popular among foreigners and wealthy Pakistanis.

"A car laden with explosives rammed the gate at the Marriott," police chief Asghar Raza Gardazi said, according to Reuters. Authorities later clarified that it was a truck bomb that triggered the enormous blast.

A U.S. intelligence official told Reuters that the attack bore the signs of Al-Qaeda. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Over 250 people were reported injured in the attack, including at least 15 foreigners. News agencies reported that the Czech ambassador to Pakistan was killed in the blast.

Military Campaign

Pakistani government spokesman Farhatullah Baber told CNN on September 21 that there were no VIP or diplomatic events scheduled in the hotel at the time of the explosion and most victims were likely to be hotel workers.

In January 2007, a suicide bomber blew himself up in an attempt to reach the heart of the same hotel, killing two guards.

Zardari was sworn in on September 9, three days after lawmakers chose him in an indirect election to succeed Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down under threat of impeachment.

In recent weeks, the Pakistani army has stepped up its military campaign to root out Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the Afghan border regions. The United States has also increased attacks on the Pakistani side of the border, angering many Pakistanis.

In Washington, the White House condemned the attack, saying it supports the Pakistani government in its fight against terrorism.

-- compiled from agency and broadcast reports