Pakistani car bomb kills 91 people

A CAR bomb struck a busy market in north-western Pakistan yesterday, killing 91 people — mostly women and children — as visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged US support for Islamabad’s campaign against Islamic militants.

More than 200 people were wounded in the blast in the main north-western city of Peshawar, the deadliest in a surge of attacks by suspected insurgents this month. The government blamed militants seeking to avenge an army offensive launched this month against al-Qaida and Taliban in their stronghold close to the Afghan border.

The bomb destroyed much of the Mina Bazaar in Peshawar’s old town. The blast collapsed buildings, including a mosque, and set scores of shops ablaze. The wounded sat amid burning debris and parts of bodies as a huge plume of gray smoke rose above the city.

Crying for help, men tried to pull survivors from beneath wreckage. One man carried away a baby with a bloody face and a group of men rescued a young boy covered in dust, but others found only bodies of the dead. A two-story building collapsed as firefighters doused it with water, triggering more panic.

“There was a deafening sound and I was like a blind man for a few minutes,” said Mohammad Usman, who was wounded in the shoulder. “I heard women and children crying and started to help others. There was the smell of human flesh in the air.”

Clinton, on her first visit to Pakistan as secretary of state, was a three-hour drive away in the capital, Islamabad, when the blast took place. She praised the army’s anti-Taliban offensive in South Waziristan and offered US support.

“I want you to know this fight is not Pakistan’s alone,” Clinton said. “These extremists are committed to destroying what is dear to us as much as they are committed to destroying that which is dear to you and to all people. So this is our struggle as well.”

Standing beside her, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the violence would not break his government’s will to fight back.

“The resolve and determination will not be shaken,” Qureshi said. “People are carrying out such heinous crimes — they want to shake our resolve. I want to address them: We will not buckle. We will fight you. We will fight you because we want peace and stability in Pakistan.”

No group claimed responsibility for the bombing. Sahib Gul, a doctor at a nearby hospital, said 91 people were killed and more than 200 injured. He said 60 of the dead were either women or children.

The Taliban have warned Pakistan that they would stage more attacks if the army does not end its ground offensive in the South Waziristan tribal region, where the military has sent 30,000 troops to flush out insurgents.

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