Car bomb kills 91 in Pakistan during Clinton visit


Islamabad: A car bomb ripped through a crowded market in Peshawar city in north-western Pakistan Wednesday, killing 91 people, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived on a visit to the country and assured full support in fight against terrorism.

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About 200 people were injured in the blast that occurred in the Peepal Mandi area of Peshawar, the capital of the restive North-West Frontier Province, when hundreds of women were shopping in the Meena Bazar, a market predominantly for women.

“We have here 91 deaths confirmed so far. In addition, there are large numbers of severed limbs that are brought here in plastic bags,” Abdul Hameed Afridi, chief of the city’s main Lady Reading Hospital, said.

He said up to 30 injured victims were in critical condition.

“In this incident the percentage of female and child victims is very high,” Afridi added.

More dead and injured were also believed to be trapped under the rubble of a two-storey building that collapsed after the blast.

Rescuers were still searching through the rubble for victims as firefighters doused several burning shops.

Huge clouds of white smoke were seen rising from the area immediately after the blast. The head of the bomb disposal squad in Peshawar, Shafqat Malik, said more than 150 kg explosives were used in the car bombing.

The blast shattered windows of buildings 500 metres away.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing but the Pakistani government blames Taliban militants seeking to avenge an army offensive in their heartland South Waziristan district that lies close to Afghanistan.

The deadly strike came around four hours after the US secretary of state started a three-day visit to Pakistan. Clinton condemned the lethal bombing and assured Pakistan of full support in its struggle against terrorism.

“These attacks on the innocent people are cowardly. They are not courageous, they are cowardly,” she told reporters after a meeting with her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad.

The Waziristan region has turned into one of the major hubs of international terrorism with hundreds of Al Qaeda militants running training camps and planning attacks abroad.

The US has long pressed Pakistan for an all-out offensive against Taliban militants launching cross-border attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.

As the US pushes Pakistan to battle determined Taliban guerrilla fighters in the difficult South Waziristan terrain, it still searches for an effective strategy to deal with the Islamic insurgency in border area near Afghanistan.

The US efforts could be complicated by the escalating violence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Around 300 people, many of them civilians, have died in suicide bombings and militant raids in Pakistan in October.

“These extremists are committed to destroying that which 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,” Clinton said in Islamabad.

“We will give you the help that you need in order to achieve your goal,” she added.

Some Islamist political parties have criticised the Pakistani government, which they say has provoked the Taliban by moving against them on US orders.

But Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi said Wednesday that his government was targeting the insurgents because it wanted stability and peace.

“You think by attacking innocent people and lives you will shake our determination, no sir you will not, we will be more determined to fight you and defeat you for our own reasons,” he said.

“We will not buckle. We will fight you,” Qureshi said. “You are on the run and we know that.”