A car bomb tore through a packed Pakistani market near a police station, killing nine people, in the fifth attack in the city of Peshawar in less than a week, officials said.
The bomb, planted in a car, devastated shops and vehicles as civilians on Wednesday thronged the congested area at the start of the working day in the northwestern city at the forefront of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked attacks.
Peshawar runs into Pakistan's lawless tribal belt, which Washington considers the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and where US drone strikes target Islamist fighters active in the nine-year war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
|A Pakistani police commando, seen here standing guard in Peshawar.|
Pakistan suffers near-daily attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants that have killed more than 4,000 people since government troops evicted Islamists from an Islamabad mosque in a deadly July 2007 siege.
"It was a timed bomb. The target was police. He parked the car here due to the rush," senior police official Mohammad Ijaz Khan told reporters.
Peshawar's main Lady Reading Hospital said it had received nine dead after the attack, including three children and one woman.
"Nineteen people were also injured. Children and women are among the injured as well," hospital chief Abdul Hamid Afridi told AFP.
Peshawar city police chief Liaquat Ali Khan confirmed the death toll, but said 21 people had been injured.
"The bomb blast took place in a congested market. All the dead and injured are civilians," Siraj Ahmad, head of Peshawar administration.
"About 40 to 45 kilograms (90 to 100 pounds) of explosives were used. Four vehicles were destroyed and 16 shops were badly damaged. Some of them were completely destroyed," bomb disposal official Tanvir Ahmad told reporters.
On Monday, twin bomb attacks targeting police in Peshawar killed six people. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a police patrol in which a teenage bomber killed five people on the city's outskirts.
On Saturday, a double truck bombing killed four people at a tunnel connecting Peshawar to the garrison town of Kohat.
Homegrown Taliban, who are fiercely opposed to the US-allied government, recently vowed to step up attacks on Pakistani police and security forces.
Pakistan's northwest and tribal areas have been wracked by violence, mostly targeting security officials, since hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters sought refuge there after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The military has claimed victory in a number of battles against militants, but attacks have continued across the country.
Pakistan launched its most ambitious military offensive yet against local Taliban, in South Waziristan, in 2009, and has fought campaigns in the other six semi-autonomous tribal districts along the Afghan border.
Washington has said eliminating militant sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal belt, particularly North Waziristan, is vital to winning the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and defeating Al-Qaeda.
But General David Rodriguez, deputy US commander in Afghanistan, told a Pentagon news conference Tuesday that he believed US-led NATO forces can still win the war even if Pakistan does not move against militant havens.
"We're going to encourage them to do more because that makes it easier on what we're doing. But I think it's still doable, without them decreasing what they've been doing, which is significant," he said.