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Car bomb kills dozens at bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan

The blast, carried out with about 440 pounds of explosives, is the third in eight days in the northwestern Pakistani city. Suspicion falls on the Taliban.

September 29, 2013|By Zulfiqar Ali and Mark Magnier
  • A man carries a child from the blast site at a bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan, after a massive car bomb exploded.
A man carries a child from the blast site at a bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan,… (Mohammad Sajjad / Associated…)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A massive car bomb in Peshawar, the third in a particularly bloody week for the northwestern Pakistani city, killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 100 on Sunday in a crowded market about 350 yards from where a memorial service was being held for the victims of last week's church bombing.

Shafqat Malik, the head of the local bomb squad, said the bomb was planted in a car parked in front of a small hotel in the Qissa Khawani bazaar, the city's oldest and one of its biggest. The device used about 440 pounds of explosives and was detonated by remote control, he added, leaving a crater 5 feet deep.

"This car was converted into a bomb," Malik told reporters at the site. "Sometimes [the terrorists] are successful and sometimes we are."

Pedestrians were just starting to do their Sunday shopping shortly before noon when the blast occurred near a mosque and a police station, witnesses said, destroying shops, cars and rickshaws. Six children and two women were reportedly among the dead. Based on an initial assessment, officials said they did not believe the police station was the intended target.

No one took immediate responsibility, although suspicion fell on the Taliban, which had claimed responsibility for the two other bombings last week. Analysts said the confluence of three relatively large attacks in quick succession appeared to be part of a campaign waged by the Taliban to discredit possible peace talks with the government.

Two of the attacks, the latest car bombing and one at a Christian church the previous Sunday, in which 82 people died, appeared aimed at ordinary citizens. The other attack, which killed 18 mostly mid-level government employees returning from work Friday, followed a more predictable pattern of targeting symbols of the state.

Less than a quarter of a mile from Sunday's blast site, worshipers at All Saints Church were gathered for a memorial service a week after two suicide bombers blew themselves up as members of the congregation left the services. That attack sparked nationwide protests among Christians and members of Pakistan's civil society demanding better protection for minorities.

Syed Jamil Shah, a spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital, the city's largest, said Sunday that the facility was treating 101 people from the bazaar bombing. The death toll could rise, Shah added, because many of the victims arrived in critical condition. Television footage showed the wounded lining the halls of the overwhelmed emergency room wing, relatives searching desperately for their loved ones and men carrying coffins into the medical center.

Rescue worker Niaz Wali rushed to the market to help the wounded shortly after the powerful blast when a small secondary explosion went off, inflicting shrapnel wounds on his face. Wali said he saw several bodies at the site.

Peshawar, the capital of the militant-racked northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan, has been headed by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan since May. "Imran Khan promised people he would bring peace to the province," Wali said, calling on the government to rid the area of warmongers. "Just where is his peace plan?"

Television footage showed thick black smoke pouring from the busy market as a firefighter struggled to extinguish a burning motorbike. In another sequence, an automobile, upended by the blast, was charred as one of its blown-off tires burned a few feet away in the road.

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif secured the support of several political parties to initiate talks with the Taliban aimed at containing the violence. But a series of attacks since then, including the assassination of a general near the Afghan border, and escalating militant demands have caused many Pakistanis to question this strategy.

Among the militant group's list of preconditions for talks include the release of all Taliban prisoners, the end of all drone strikes and the removal of all troops from areas where militants are strong. The Taliban, which has repeatedly rejected Pakistan's Constitution and called for war with India, aims to set up a hard-line Islamic state based on sharia, or Islamic law.

Sharif is scheduled to meet with his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Sunday, just hours after Singh referred to Pakistan as the "epicenter of terrorism in our region." In a message from New York, Sharif strongly condemned the Peshawar bombing as an attack on humanity.

Also Sunday, in northwestern Pakistan, a rocket from a suspected U.S. drone hit a house in the Dargah Mandi area of North Waziristan, near the Afghan border, killing six people and wounding three, authorities said. The casualties reportedly were affiliated with a Taliban leader who had been killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike while traveling in a car in the same area.

mark.magnier@latimes.com

Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and Times staff writer Magnier from Lahore, Pakistan. Special correspondent Nasir Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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