Blast rips through Pakistan market

At least 23 people killed and scores wounded in a powerful explosion near Rawalpindi.

Islamabad, Pakistan – At least 23 people have been killed and another 73 wounded after a bomb ripped through a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, hospital and security officials have told Al Jazeera.

The bomb exploded around 08:30am local time (03:30 GMT) on Wednesday morning at the wholesale Sabzi Mandi market, in the Pir Wadai area between Islamabad and its twin city, Rawalpindi.

Police and rescue services rushed to the site of the blast, where the victims’ remains were strewn among crates of guavas. The destruction was centred around a bomb crater two metres wide.

Police at the scene told Al Jazeera their initial investigations indicated that approximately five kilograms of explosives had been placed in one of the crates, and had been set off by remote-control.

The wounded were rushed to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Islamabad’s main medical facility, and the nearby Holy Family hospital.

‘Covered in blood’

“I live near the market, and so I rushed to the scene when I heard the explosion. I saw several dead bodies on the floor, and many people in a horrible state,” said Gul Muhammad, 64, who works at the market.

“I was so upset by what I saw that I had to get away from the place. I went and sat in this shed,” he said, pointing to a nearby shack, “and just held my head in my hands.”

Obaidullah, 15, a labourer in the market, was just a few metres away from the site of the blast when it occurred.

“People’s whole bodies were covered in blood when they were running away,” he said.

The destruction was centred around a bomb crater two metres wide

Taliban ceasefire

The attack came 24 hours before a 40-day ceasefire  declared by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was due to expire.

The TTP and the Pakistani government have been holding talks, with the cessation of attacks carried out by the TTP seen as a key marker of the process’s success.

The ceasefire has, however, seen frequent violations, and this is the second time that Islamabad, the country’s capital, has experienced an attack while the measure has been in place.

On Wednesday, Shahidullah Shahid, the TTP’s spokesperson, released a statement distancing his group from the market attack, as well as from an earlier bombing of a train in the southwestern Balochistan province on Tuesday.

“The deaths of innocent people in attacks on public places is saddening, unjustified and haram,” Shahid said, pointing the finger of blame at groups who “are trying to discredit the Taliban”.

The government, too, appeared to blame unnamed groups that wanted the negotiations to fail.

“The peace that we are trying to bring to Pakistan, without bloodshed, these people do not want that,” said Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, a member of the ruling PML-N party, who represents Sabzi Mandi and its adjoining areas in parliament.

While most in Pakistan support the idea of ending the war with the TTP and its affiliates, whether through dialogue or security operations, there appears to be little faith in the current negotiation process.

Nasir Khan, 23, was buying guavas at the market to sell in his hometown of Swabi when the explosion occurred.

“They are not humans, those who carry out such attacks,” he told Al Jazeera, while being treated for wounds to his hands at PIMS. “What are these negotiations? They say there will be a month of peace, and then after 20 days there’s another bomb blast.”

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Source: Al Jazeera