A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle along a road near a well-known market in Pakistan's northwest city of Peshawar today, killing 41 people and underscoring militants' ability to strike in major cities despite US-backed military offensives pressuring their networks.
The attack in the Khyber Bazaar area came as Pakistan's army prepares for another major operation in the al-Qa'ida and Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan tribal region. The militants have threatened bombings if the army doesn't back off, but the US has continued to prod Pakistan to take action against insurgents using its soil to fuel the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.
Television footage showed the charred skeleton of a bus flipped on its side in the middle of a major road. Twisted remains of a motorbike lay alongside the bus. A nearby vehicle was in flames.
Noor Alam saw the vehicle explode, and suffered wounds on his legs and face.
"I saw a blood soaked leg landing close to me," Alam told The Associated Press at the overwhelmed Lady Reading hospital. "I understood for the first time in my life what a doomsday would look like."
Peshawar Police Chief Liaqat Ali Khan said the attacker was in a car packed with "a huge quantity of explosives and artillery rounds." A minibus apparently carrying passengers nearby was also leveled in the blast.
It came days after a suicide attack killed five at a U.N. office in the capital, Islamabad and two weeks after another explosion killed 11 in a Peshawar commercial area.
It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since a suicide bomber demolished a packed mosque near the northwestern town of Jamrud in March, killing about 50.
Provincial Health Minister Syed Zahir Ali Shah said 41 people were killed and more than 100 wounded Friday.
"Death has to come one day, but we will keep chasing these terrorists, and this attack cannot deter our resolve," Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said as he visited the bloody scene.
Also Friday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said a suspect had been arrested in Monday's suicide attack at the office of the U.N.'s World Food Program in Islamabad. Malik says the man was alleged to have given the attacker shelter, but gave few details.
Militants in Pakistan also have targeted trucks carrying supplies for US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Early Friday, militants ambushed a tanker carrying fuel for the Western troops at a gas station near Peshawar, torching it, said Fazal Rabi, a police official. No injuries or deaths were reported.
The attacks come amid growing tensions between the US and Pakistan over a multibillion-dollar US aid package that is aimed at helping Pakistan's economy and other nonmilitary sectors.
Pakistan's army has raised concern over strings attached to the aid, bolstering critics who say it will invite US interference.
The debate over the proposal also has exposed rifts between Pakistan's military and its weak civilian government.
The government has hailed the package, which would provide $1.5 billion a year over the next five years. But the measure, which awaits President Barack Obama's signature, makes US aid contingent on whether Pakistan's government maintains effective control over the military, among other conditions.
The army, which has ruled Pakistan for around half its 62-year existence, raised "serious concern" over the conditions, while the government said nothing in it was against Pakistan's interests.