Accidental blast in Peshawar kills three

An accidental explosion ripped through a store in northwestern Pakistan today, killing at least three people and trapping others in a separate building that caught fire, police said — rattling nerves in a city repeatedly pounded with militant attacks.

Officials initially said the blast in a commercial district of Peshawar was caused by a car bomb, but investigators found no trace of explosives at the scene. Police Chief Liaquat Ali Khan said it was an accidental explosion that went off in a shop with paint stored inside. The exact cause was still unclear.

The explosion damaged vehicles and shattered windows in a wide stretch along a major road. At least three people died and seven others were wounded, police official Gohar Zaman said.

Several people were seen clinging to windows and shouting for help in one building full of lawyer's offices that caught fire. Firefighters struggled to put out the flames, and some tried to get into the building using a ladder. City official Sahibzada Mohammad Anis estimated that dozens were trapped.

Peshawar has become a frequent target for anti-government, Islamist militants — so officials were quick to assume at first that Saturday's blast was another attack.

Last night, up to 40 militants attacked an army checkpoint, killing one soldier, a security official said.

Soldiers at the checkpoint on a bridge in Wana, the main town in the Islamist bastion of South Waziristan, retaliated after coming under fire, said the security official.

"There were 30 to 40 militants who first fired rocket- propelled grenades at our post and then opened fire with AK-47 rifles which killed one of our soldiers. But we retaliated and killed six militants," a security official in the region, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

An intelligence official said helicopter gunships also hit militant positions in the battle.

The military has said it made gains in a major offensive in October in South Waziristan, a global Islamist hub.

But militants have carried out retaliatory bombings, killing hundreds of people and pressuring increasingly unpopular Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to neutralise the insurgency as he fights for his political survival.