Deadly blast hits Pakistan

A massive suicide car bomb blast in a market in the Pakistani city of Peshawar has killed at least 49 people and wounded more than 100, officials say.

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Peshawar is a frequent target of Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks.

The blast occurred in a shopping area close to the northwestern city’s main Khyber Bazaar.

It was the sixth attack in the city in the past four months and follows the killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in August, whose death the militants have repeatedly vowed to avenge.

“We have 49 dead bodies brought to the hospital. Three of them are women and seven are children,” said Doctor Zafar Iqbal, the registrar of Peshawar’s main Lady Reading Hospital.

“All of those killed are civilians. Only two policemen were wounded in the blast,” he said, adding that 108 wounded were being treated in the hospital.

Senior provincial minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour confirmed the death toll of 49, saying that more than 100 people were injured in the blast.

Police official Mohammad Karim estimated the size of the bomb at around 100 kilograms, while Shafqat Malik, chief of the bomb disposal squad, confirmed that a suicide attacker had detonated the bomb.

The device was planted in the door panels of the vehicle and included machine-gun ammunition, designed to cause 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 critically injured.

“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.

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.

Last April, troops launched a blistering assault designed to dislodge Pakistani Taliban from the northwest Swat valley.

There has been an increase in US drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal belt recently, as the United States tries to stem the flow of militants waging an insurgency against about 100,000 foreign troops stationed across the border.

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 insurgency in Afghanistan, as part of an intense Afghan policy review.

The White House said Thursday that the Taliban posed less of a threat to US security than al-Qaeda, raising speculation that Obama would not announce a major increase in troop numbers.

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.