PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – A massive suicide car bomb ripped through a packed market in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Friday, killing at least 42 people and injuring over 100 in a region troubled by Taliban attacks.
The blast left charred corpses strewn in a shopping area close to the city's main Khyber Bazaar, with cars reduced to burning wreckage and a colourful city bus flung on its side by the force of the blast, which hit around lunchtime.
|A Pakistani bystander is seen at the site of the car bomb blast in Peshawar (AFP photo)|
It was the sixth attack in the northwestern city in the past four months and followed the killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in August, whose death the militants have repeatedly vowed to avenge.
"At least 42 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the blast," provincial health minister Zahir Ali Shah told reporters in Peshawar's main Lady Reading Hospital.
Doctor Mehboob Ali at the hospital confirmed the toll and put the number of wounded at 103. The injured included women and children, he said, while more than 50 people were in a serious condition.
At the scene, the blackened bodies of victims lay on the street as injured men and women in torn and blood-soaked clothing were helped from the rubble.
Passers-by desperately tried to free survivors from a city bus flung over onto its side. Flames rose from the wreckage of cars caught in the devastation, with at least 12 shops completely destroyed in the blast.
"It was like somebody threw me out of my shop. For some time my mind stopped working, but then I started running to a safe place," Ghulam Nabbi, a shopkeeper at Khyber bazaar, told AFP.
Another stall holder, Saleem Khan, described the destruction around him: "It was a huge blast like somebody shattered everything."
Police official Mohammad Karim estimated the size of the bomb at around 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds), while Shafqat Malik, chief of the bomb disposal squad, confirmed that a suicide attacker was responsible.
The device was planted in the door panels of the vehicle and included machine-gun ammunition, designed to inflict maximum casualties, Malik said.
"The suicide attacker was sitting in the vehicle," he added.
Another police official, Nisar Marwat, said the death toll could rise, given that some of the wounded were in critical condition. Related article: US Afghan strategy
"We have declared an emergency in the hospitals," local administration chief Sahibzada Mohammad Anis told reporters.
Peshawar is the main city in the northwest and has been a frequent target of militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, who are waging a violent insurgency against the Pakistani state.
On September 26 a car bomb killed six people on a road leading to the main army cantonment in Peshawar.
Friday's blast is the deadliest in Pakistan since March this year, when a suicide bomber attacked a packed mosque in the northwestern town of Jamrud at prayer time, killing around 50 people and wounding dozens more.
Pakistan, on the frontline of the United States' war on Al-Qaeda, has been hit by a wave of bombings that have killed more than 2,100 people across the nuclear-armed country over the past two years.
The government in Islamabad has vowed to wipe out Islamist militants from Pakistan's northwest. In April, troops launched a blistering assault designed to dislodge Pakistani Taliban from the northwestern Swat valley.
The offensive, coupled with an increase in drone attacks by US aircraft targeting Taliban in the northwest, has provoked a furious reaction from the Taliban militia based in the tribal belt near Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Monday on a UN compound in Islamabad that killed five aid workers and closed UN offices nationwide in the worst attack in the capital in months.
The latest attack came as US President Barack Obama mulls sending extra troops to fight an increasing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, as part of an intense Afghan policy review.
US commander General Stanley McChrystal, who asked for up to 40,000 more troops and warned that the counter-insurgency against the Taliban could fail without reinforcements.