A car bomb packed with 150 kg of explosives ripped through a bustling commercial hub, including a market meant exclusively for women, in Pakistan's Peshawar city on Wednesday killing at least 95 people and injuring 213 others, hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived here to discuss fight against terror.
Officials feared the toll could rise as many people were still believed to be trapped in the rubble of six buildings that collapsed due to the powerful blast. Many of the dead and injured in the explosion were women and children.
The blast, which occurred in the congested 'Peepal Mandi' area of NWFP capital Peshawar shortly after 1 pm local time, left 95 people dead and 213 injured, Dawn News channel reported.
Shafqat Malik, chief of the city's bomb disposal squad, said the blast, the 13th terror attack in Peshawar in recent weeks, was caused by a car bomb packed with 150 kg of explosives.
The 'Meena Bazar', a market exclusively for women, bore the brunt of the blast. Many bodies were charred and missing limbs, witnesses said.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack that destroyed shops selling bangles, dresses and toys. However, Pakistani authorities have blamed the Taliban, against whom a major military operation is on in the militant stronghold of Waziristan, for the recent terror attacks in the country.
Rescue workers scoured the debris for survivors and the injured were still being taken to hospitals over three hours after the blast. Doctors said 50 of the injured were in a serious condition.
NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters that many of the dead and injured were women and children.
"We will not lose our courage and we will continue our 'jehad' to eliminate these terrorists. We will not forgive these killers. We may lose our lives but we will continue this 'jehad'," Hussain said.
Clinton, who arrived in Islamabad on her maiden official visit a few hours before the blast, said Pakistan had "endured a barrage of attacks" for its role in the war on terror.
She pledged that the US would stand should-to-shoulder with the Pakistani people in their campaign against extremists.
Strict security arrangements were put in place in Islamabad for her visit.
The blast, heard across Peshawar, sparked a major fire and white smoke billowed over the city. Footage on television showed two rows of shops on either side of a narrow road going up in flames and collapsing.
Dozens of shops and several cars were gutted by the fire while the blast damaged a mosque. The fire spread rapidly as most buildings in the area were made of wood.
Many of the buildings had shops on the ground floors and private residences on the upper storeys. Residents of the area used their hands to dig through rubble to pull out the dead and injured.
One building collapsed even as fire fighters battled the blaze, sending up clouds of dust. The fire and narrow lanes in the area hampered rescue efforts.
An emergency was declared in hospitals after the blast in Peshawar, one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan in recent months. Officials said most of the deaths were caused by burn injuries and suffocation.
Scores have died in a series of bombings and suicide attacks across Pakistan over the past few weeks. A majority of the attacks targeted security facilities, including the army's heavily-guarded General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the blast in Peshawar and said the government will not rest till all extremists and terrorists in the country are eliminated.
Zardari said the government's resolve to fight terrorism will not to be deterred by such cowardly acts.
In a separate message, Gilani said his government had launched a full-scale operation against militants and "will not be cowed down by such heinous attacks." PTI