PESHAWAR, Oct 28: At least 101 people, mostly women and children, were killed and over 150 injured when a huge car bomb ripped through a crowded market here on Wednesday.
The blast triggered a huge fire which engulfed a number of buildings near the Meena Bazaar. A plume of dust and smoke billowed from narrow lanes of the market situated in the old part of the city.
A senior intelligence official blamed terrorists based in Darra Adamkhel for the attack. “We intercepted a call last week in which militants were talking about a ‘heart-rending’ attack in Peshawar,” he said.
A representative of the shopkeepers’ association said threats had been received in recent days with militants demanding that women be forbidden from going to the market.
The blast took place in two narrow lanes between Meena Bazaar and Kochi Bazaar frequented by women. A cotton warehouse in the market caught fire which spread to several buildings on the Cheri Koban road. A number of shops along the narrow road, vehicles and carts were gutted.
Most of the bodies were charred beyond recognition and till late night only 25 of them had been identified.
Hospital sources said the death toll could rise because scores of badly burnt and injured people were in a critical condition.
“It was a car bomb blast and over 150 kilograms of explosives were used,” in-charge of the bomb disposal unit AIG Malik Shafqar Mahmud said.
He said that an initial investigation suggested that explosives had been detonated by remote control. The blast caused massive losses because it had taken place in a narrow and busy market, he added.
“About 70 of the dead are women and children. Scores of the injured are in a critical condition,” said Dr Sahib Gul, the in-charge of Trauma Centre at the Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar.
“The blast was so huge that it jolted the entire area and within seconds plumes of smoke and dust started emitting out of a building near Al-Falah Mosque,” Karim Khan, a shopkeeper, said.
Ezat Khan, another shopkeeper, said that parking of vehicles outside shops was not allowed, but it could not be ascertained how the driver of the explosives-laden car had managed to park it there.
Fire-engines, ambulances and other rescue vehicles faced difficulty in reaching the scene because of congestion and narrow lanes. People were seen taking the bodies and the injured to hospitals in cars, rickshaws and even on motorcycles.
A fire-fighter said that many children and women trapped in the debris of several buildings were crying for help, but rescue workers could not reach them because of huge flames.
A group of men trapped under the roof of a nearby mosque were rescued.
Rescue work was in progress till late night and workers were finding it difficult to remove the debris. It was feared that some people were still trapped in the rubble because rescue personnel had heard them wailing and crying.
All shops in the area were closed after the blast and people started searching for their relatives.
A crowd of people inside the trauma room and emergency hall of the Lady Reading Hospital made it difficult for medical staff to perform their duty.
Distressed people, including women, were seen searching for relatives in the hospital, but recognising them was difficult because most of the bodies were mutilated. Stench of blood and human flesh hung in the air in the hospital.
NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftkhar Hussain told reporters that the blast was a reaction to the military operation in South Waziristan which had become a safe haven for terrorists of various countries.
“Terrorism cannot be described as jihad as our religion does not allow taking lives of innocent people,” he said, adding that the government would not bow to pressure and continue its fight against saboteurs.
Senior provincial minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour said it was difficult to deploy policemen at all places because of shortage of manpower. The provincial government, he said, had already decided to recruit 1,000 retired personnel of the armed forces to help police.
Mr Bilour urged all political and religious parties to join hands and take a unified stand against terrorists.