Taliban on Sunday denied responsibility for twin bomb blasts that ripped through a crowded market in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 39 people and injuring dozens.
The attack, one of the deadliest in a series to hit Pakistan since US Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in May, devastated the Khyber Super Market district which includes a hotel, shops and student accommodation.
The Taliban, who have vowed to carry out attacks to avenge the killing of bin Laden, denied any role in the bombing and said they target only the government and military.
“We did not carry out this attack in Peshawar. It is an attempt by foreign secret agencies who are doing it to malign us,” Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP on phone.
“We do not target innocent people. Our targets are very clear, we attack security forces, government and people who are siding with it,” Ehsan said.
Updated from print edition (below)
Midnight terror: At least 34 killed in Peshawar Cantt blasts
At least 34 people were killed and over 90 injured, among them television journalists and a senior police officer, when two blasts ripped through a marketplace in the garrison area of Peshawar just before midnight on Saturday.
“First a gas cylinder exploded at Lala Restaurant in Khyber Supermarket in Peshawar Cantt,” a witness told The Express Tribune. “People flocked to the site out of curiosity,” he added. “Minutes later, a huge blast rocked the market.”
SSP Operations Ejaz Khan corroborated the eyewitness’ account, saying it was a trap. “The cylinder was exploded to attract people to the site,” he added.
Khan said that the bomb was strapped to a motorcycle parked outside the ill-fated restaurant – a famous eatery of the city which is usually frequented by a large number of food-lovers. He said the explosive device weighed around 10 kilogrammes.
Capital City Police Officer Liaquat Ali Khan confirmed that at least 34 people were killed and over 90 wounded in the bombing. The casualties were ferried to different hospitals of the city, where a state of emergency was declared.
Medics at the Lady Reading Hospital told The Express Tribune that they have received 12 bodies and over 40 injured people – some of them in critical condition. The injured also include television journalists – among them Dunya TV Bureau chief Safiullah Gul – and SP Cantt Shafiullah Khan. However, doctors said their wounds are not life threatening.
Witnesses said that the restaurant and several adjoining shops were badly damaged in the explosion which also triggered a huge fire in the market. The explosion also caused a power outage in the area, and security and rescue officials were forced to work in the dark.
Khyber Supermarket is located in a high-security zone of Peshawar’s cantonment area.
The office of Khyber Agency’s political agent and a Pakistan Army residential colony are situated nearby.
The explosion took place exactly where a tribal journalist, Nasrullah Afridi, was killed in a targeted bomb blast last month.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain condemned the ‘cowardly terrorist attack’. Speaking to the media outside the LRH, he feared that the death toll could rise further.
Taliban militants have carried out a string of bombings and brazen gun attacks on civil and military targets to avenge the killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Iftikhar Hussain called for bridging the trust deficit between all regional and international players to defeat terrorism.
The KP-K information minister added: “Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US-led coalition forces must abandon hypocritical policies if they want to defeat militancy.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2011.
A slideshow of pictures from the blast site can be viewed here.