Bomb Kills Dozens at Market in Northwestern Pakistan

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A powerful car bomb ripped through a busy marketplace in Peshawar, the regional capital of northwestern Pakistan, early Sunday, killing at least 38 people in the third major attack in and around the city in the past week.

The explosion occurred in the historic Qissa Khwani bazaar in the old quarter of the city, roughly two miles from the site of a double suicide bombing of a Christian church a week earlier that killed dozens of people.

Experts said the blast was caused by homemade explosives and artillery shells that had been hidden in a parked car. The dead included 14 members of one family who had come to Peshawar from a nearby village to distribute wedding invitations.

Rescue workers cut through the smoldering wreckage of burning vehicles and destroyed buildings in an effort to find survivors. Television stations carried graphic images of the carnage, which underscored to Pakistanis across the country the continuing threat from the Taliban and allied militant groups.

"The people behind this are not human," said Ghulam Mohammad, who was looking for the body of a close relative at a hospital. "This is the work of animals."

The Pakistani Taliban, however, denied that they were responsible for the latest attack. "We have nothing to do with today's bomb blast," said Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman. "We have made it clear several times that it is not our policy to target the general public. We condemn it and ask the government to ascertain its perpetrators."

The attack came after a particularly bad week across Pakistan. An earthquake killed at least 300 people in a remote part of Baluchistan, the country's largest but least populous province, and three major militant attacks in Peshawar killed at least 140 people.

Last Sunday, the suicide attack on the nearby All Saints Church killed 85 people, and a bombing on a crowded bus on Friday killed 21 government employees as they traveled home for the weekend.

"Collecting the dead and digging graves -- this is unspeakable," said the deputy city commissioner, Zaheerul Islam. "I don't know what to say anymore."

The attack on Sunday took place in the Qissa Khawani, or storytellers' bazaar, which takes its name from ancient times when merchants and travelers from Central Asia stopped there to rest and share their stories. Some of the tea stalls from that time still exist.

Police officials said at least 440 pounds of explosives was used to make the bomb, which left a crater that was three feet deep. The explosion blew up storefronts, some of which caught fire, destroyed at least three shops and damaged dozens more. Traders announced three days of mourning.

The violence also came at a time of intense political debate over whether the government should hold peace talks with Taliban insurgents in a bid to end the bloodshed.

The opposition leader Imran Khan, whose party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, advocates peace talks and putting a halt to military operations in the tribal regions.

Mr. Khan prompted controversy last week when, days after the church bombing, he called on the government to allow the Pakistani Taliban to open an office that would facilitate talks, much as was done for the Afghan Taliban in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

But experts say that the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are different movements -- the Pakistani version is seen as being more ideologically driven, with a narrower political base -- while political critics say that a policy of appeasement will only embolden the militants.

Speaking at the site of the bombing on Sunday, Ayesha Gulalai Wazir, a lawmaker with Mr. Khan's party, said such attacks were intended to damage the prospects of negotiations. "Some forces don't want the talk process to start," she said.

Separately, at least five people were killed in what appeared to be an American drone strike in North Waziristan, a tribal district that is a hotbed of local and foreign militancy. A Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the dead included militants from the Punjabi Taliban and the Haqqani network, which has carried out attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani political leaders have repeatedly urged the United States to end drone attacks on their soil, a position that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday.

Ismail Khan reported from Peshawar, and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan. Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting from Islamabad,  and Declan Walsh from London.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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