A bomb tore through a bustling fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad on Wednesday, killing at least 20 people, police said the latest violence to hit government peace talks with the Taliban.
The blast took place around 8:00 am (0300 GMT) at the wholesale market close to the Pakistani capital’s twin city Rawalpindi, as hundreds of grocers and sellers gathered to trade.
The bombing — the deadliest to hit Islamabad since a huge truck bomb at the Marriott Hotel in 2008 — left a 1.5-metre (five-foot) diameter crater at the site, which was littered with body parts and guava fruits drenched in blood.
The attack comes as the government tries to negotiate an end to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) campaign of violence.
Talks began between government and TTP intermediaries in February, but more than 160 people have been killed in attacks since the start of the process, leading many to question its worth.
Jameel Hashmi, a senior Islamabad police official, told AFP the blast had killed at least 20 people and wounded 69.
The TTP’s main spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the group had nothing to do with the attack and urged the government to find those responsible.
– ‘Bodies flying everywhere’ –
Eyewitness Muhammad Tahir described the carnage as the bomb detonated.
“The blast took place around 8:00, when we were standing there — bodies were flying everywhere, bodies were flying at the height of 20 to 25 feet,” he told.
Ambulances were rushing in and out carrying wounded people and dead bodies.
Senior local administration official Nauman Yousuf told “it was a planted bomb”.
A bomb disposal official told on condition of anonymity that the device hidden in a fruit box weighed five to six kilograms (11 to 13 pounds) and was packed with nuts and bolts to cause maximum carnage.
Thousands have been killed in militant violence since the TTP rose up against the Pakistani state in 2007 but attacks on the capital, much of which is heavily guarded, have been rare in recent years.
Wednesday’s blast came a little over a month after a gun and suicide bomb attack on a court complex in Islamabad killed 11 people including a judge.
The TTP also denied that attack, which was claimed by the Ahrar-ul-Hind splinter group which rejects the peace process.