ISLAMABAD - Kaswar Klasra/Agencies - A bomb tore through a bustling fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad Wednesday, killing at least 24 people and injuring nearly 100.
The blast took place around 8:00 am at the wholesale market as hundreds of grocers and sellers gathered to trade.
A shadowy Baloch separatist group allegedly claimed the responsibility for the powerful bombing.
“It was a remote-controlled bomb,” Sultan Azam Taimuri, Additional Inspector General of Islamabad Capital Territory police told The Nation.
The bomb was placed in crates of fruits and detonated when the fruit market in I-11 sector was thronged with buyers and sellers.
The explosion, which was heard miles away, killed 15 people on the spot while nine injured breathed their last on way to hospitals, police officials said.
Eyewitness Muhammad Tahir described the bloody 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 AFP.
The injured were rushed to Holy Family Hospital Rawalpindi and Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad. According to paramedical staff at PIMS, most of the injured received critical wounds and were admitted to Intensive Care Unit following surgery.
“The injured ones have been shifted to ICU ward of PIMS where doctors are busy providing them every possible aid to save their lives. However, chances are dim for a dozen of injured to survive,” Dr Zohaib Ahmad, a doctor at PIMS told The Nation.
PIMS spokeswoman Ayesha Isani said 15 bodies and 42 injured were brought to PIMS.
The fruit and vegetable market, located in I-11 sector and borders Rawalpindi, was a soft target for the terrorists. Police officials said several hundred people were present within the premises when the bomb went off spreading fear and panic.
AIG Taimuri said at least five kilograms of explosives were used in the bombing.
The senior police official rather incredulously claimed that the bombing was not a security lapse on part of the law enforcing agencies. “It’s not possible for Islamabad capital territory police to completely secure the area,” the AIG said.
A case has been registered with Sabzi Mandi police station against unknown accused under terrorism act.
Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan ordered an inquiry into the incident.
Following the blast, market traders told journalists that despite their repeated requests to the police, security had not been provided at the market.
Sources told The Nation that intelligence agencies had alerted the police and government officials on April 3 about a possible terrorist attacks in main cities including Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta.
The bombing - the deadliest to hit Islamabad since a huge truck bomb at the Marriott Hotel in 2008 - left a 1.5-metre diameter crater and littered the site with body parts and guava fruit drenched in blood, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
The Taliban said it was not to blame for Wednesday’s attack and has also denied some earlier bombings.
The outlawed United Baloch Army (UBA), one of several armed separatist groups in Baluchistan, claimed responsibility for the bombing. The same group also claimed responsibility for a bomb blast on a train on Tuesday, which killed 17 people in Sibi.
“We carried out the attack in Islamabad in response to the military operation against us and we will launch more such attacks in other cities,” said a UBA spokesman.
The attack was claimed by a man (Mureed Baloch) saying he represented a Baloch separatist group in a phone call to Reuters, although the news agency said it had no way to verify the call, which came from an anonymous telephone number.
If true, it would be the first attack in the capital carried out by Baloch rebels.
The Baloch rebels usually confine attacks to their own province, although they have bombed gas pipelines in Punjab in recent months.
“We conducted (the bombing) in retaliation for the military operation,” said Mureed Baloch, referring to an operation in Kalat on Monday in which the forces claimed to have killed 30 Baloch insurgents.
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.
Fighting has erupted in northwest Pakistan between rival TTP factions since Sunday, and nine more people including two civilians were killed on Wednesday.
The clashes pitting supporters of Khan Said Sajna against followers of the late Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP commander killed by a US drone in November, have killed a total of 43 people in four days.
The government has freed more than 30 Taliban prisoners in the past week to try to spur talks with the militants, and on Friday the TTP said they would extend a ceasefire begun on March 1.