Islamabad: Pakistani authorities are trying to "solve the riddle" of US Marines and their mysterious steel cases that were shifted to the Marriott Hotel four days before it was razed in the worst terrorist attack in the federal capital, a media report on Tuesday said.
"The authorities want to ascertain if it was a routine exercise or part of some special mission that does not have the approval of the government of Pakistan," The News said.
The US embassy insists the activity witnessed was a team of support personnel that often and routinely precede and/or accompany certain US officials.
According to an official source, the authorities were told that mysterious activity of the US Marines took place around midnight on September 16.
"Already, the government has got information that several rooms on the fourth floor of the Marriott were in permanent use of the US authorities. Three of these rooms were said to be inter-connected and contained some intelligence equipment and other material allegedly used for espionage," the newspaper said.
Marriott owner Sadruddin Hashwani denied that the Americans had any such presence in the hotel and said that like at any such hotel in the world, his guests included people of different nationalities.
"Why focus on the Americans unnecessarily?" he wondered, flatly denying that the US embassy had permanently hired several rooms in the hotel.
US embassy spokesperson Lou Fintor said in a written reply in response to a query on the Marines: "A team of support personnel often and routinely precede and/or accompany certain US government officials. They often carry communication and office equipment required to support large delegations, such as high-level administration officials and members of the US Congress."
He added that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who was in Pakistan last week, would travel with communications equipment.
"It is quite possible that some saw this communications equipment moved into the hotel. This equipment would leave with the CJCS. If the equipment was transported in full public view then obviously there was no attempt made to conceal its movement."
Witnessed by many, including a PPP MNA and his friends, a US embassy truckload of steel boxes was unloaded and shifted inside the Marriott Hotel on September 16 midnight only after Mullen had met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and others in Islamabad and had already left the country.
"Both the main gates (the entrance and the exit) of the hotel were closed while no one except the US Marines was either allowed to go near the truck or get the steel boxes unloaded or shift them inside the hotel," The News said.
"These steel boxes were not being passed through the scanners installed at the entrance of the hotel's lobby, and were reportedly shifted to the fourth and fifth floors of the Marriott," it added.
A hotel employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that the management had been receiving threats from unknown persons for the last six months to evict the US officials vacated from the hotel.
Hotel owner Hashwani, however, denied this.
According to the US embassy spokesperson, the mission had been a frequent customer of the Marriott for many years. On any given day, there were employees of the American embassy and official American visitors staying at the hotel.
"There is nothing unusual, secretive or 'mysterious' about this," Fintor maintained.
Asked if three of these permanently hired rooms were interconnected, Fintor said: "For our frequent visiting delegations, the embassy often rented adjoining rooms - as we often do in other hotels in Pakistan and in the world."
Responding to reports that the CIA was using the US-rented rooms for espionage purposes, the spokesperson said: "Unfortunately, far too many things have been 'said' that have absolutely no basis in fact. There is no truth whatsoever in allegations that covert activity was taking place on the part of the United States government."
He termed the allegations inaccurate, irresponsible, baseless and completely without any foundation whatsoever.