PESHAWAR: A massive suicide car bomb ripped through a packed market in the Pakistani city of Peshawar yesterday, killing at least 49 people and injuring over 100, in a region beset by Taleban attacks. The blast, which hit around midday, left charred corpses strewn in a shopping area in the city's main Khyber Bazaar, with cars reduced to burning wreckage and a colourful city bus destroyed and flung on its side.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik blamed the Taleban and said the attack could force the military to bring forward a planned operation to wipe out Islamist militant strongholds in the northwest tribal region bordering Afghanistan. "They are compelling us to launch the operation in South Waziristan early. We will take a decision on the operation against terrorists over the next few days," he told reporters in Islamabad.
It was the sixth bombing in Peshawar in four months and comes as the Pakistani Taleban have vowed to increase attacks to avenge the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in August. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani "strongly condemned" the bombing, expressing his government's resolve to continue action against extremists, his office said in a statement.
Doctor Zafar Iqbal, the registrar of Peshawar's main Lady Reading Hospital, said: "We have 49 dead bodies brought to the hospital. Three of them are women and seven are children." All of the dead were civilians, he added. Senior provincial minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour confirmed the toll, saying that more than 100 people were injured in the blast. About 50 people remain in serious condition, doctors said.
At the scene, the blackened bodies of victims lay on the street as injured shoppers in torn and blood-soaked clothing were helped from the rubble. At least 12 shops were completely destroyed in the blast, while passers-by desperately tried to free survivors from a city bus flung onto its side.
Bomb disposal squad chief Shafqat Malik told reporters that police evidence suggested the suicide bomber had rammed a car - with explosives and machinegun ammunition packed into its side panels - into the crowded bus. "There was blood and pieces of human body everywhere. People were crying in pain for help," said Miskeen Khan, who received shrapnel wounds to his face.
Ghulam Nabbi, a shopkeeper at the Khyber Bazaar, told AFP: "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." Police official Mohammad Karim estimated the size of the bomb at about 100 kg.
"The target was civilians. The Taleban want to pressure government by such attacks, but we will never bow down to them. Operations will continue until the last militant is eliminated," provincial minister Bilour told AFP.
The bus was making a turn when the blast occurred and it threw the bus into the air," a witness told Duniya Television. Passers-by rushed to cover the bodies of victims whose clothes were burned off, while a man carried an injured woman. One man staggered from the scene, his face covered with blood.
"I saw a blood-soaked leg landing close to me," said Noor Alam, who suffered wounds to his legs and face and was at a hospital overrun with casualties. "I understood for the first time in my life what doomsday would look like.
Pakistan's military is wrapping up a fierce offensive against Taleban rebels in the northwestern Swat valley launched in April, and are poised to start a new operation in the semi-autonomous tribal belt on the Afghan border. Yesterday, the military said it had lost one soldier and killed eight militants in incidents in Swat and North Waziristan. Six militants were killed in a military search operation in Swat. In North Waziristan a soldier was killed by a blast at a checkpoint and two Uzbek militants were killed in the ensuing gunfight.
The military's latest offensives, coupled with an increase in drone attacks by US aircraft targeting Islamists in the northwest, have provoked a furious reaction from the Taliban militia in the tribal belt.
Despite reports of fierce infighting among the militants after the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban appear to have regrouped, analysts say, with new commander Hakimullah Mehsud keen to show his strength.
"Increasing militant attacks now reflect that they have found space to regroup and launch fresh attacks," said Ishtiaq Ahmed, an international relations professor at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University.
Peshawar is the main city in the northwest and has been a frequent target of militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Pakistan, on the frontline of the United States' war on Al-Qaeda, has been hit by a wave of bombings that have killed nearly 2,200 people across the nuclear-armed country over the past two years.
Yesterday'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. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Monday on a UN office in Islamabad that killed five aid workers.
Access interview at kuwaittimes.net