Bombing in fruit market on outskirts of Pakistani capital kills at least 21

Published: April 9, 2014

A Pakistani bomb disposal expert searches the site of a bomb explosion at a fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad on April 9, 2014. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

ASIF SHAHZAD 
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A bomb ripped through a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of Islamabad on Wednesday, killing at least 21 people and wounding dozens more in a new attack in the Pakistani capital, which until recently had remained relatively removed from shootings and bombings that plague other parts of the country.

A separatist group from the ethnic Baluch minority claimed responsibility for the attack. Baluch separatists have been fighting bloody insurgency for years in their heartland in the southwest of the country.

The bomb went off as morning shoppers were buying supplies at the outdoor market. The power of the blast sent cartons of fruit and vegetables flying. Police quickly cordoned off the scene, which was littered with guavas, shoes, and prayer caps. Blood stained the ground in many areas.

One fruit trader, Afzal Khan, said he saw dismembered victims. “People were dying. People were crying. People were running.”

The approximately five kilograms (11 pounds) of explosives were hidden in a fruit carton, said a police official, Yasin Malik. Police and officers from the bomb disposal squad scanned the area for more devices.

The market is located near a makeshift camp for people displaced from fighting in Pakistan’s northwest, as well as refugees from Afghanistan. It is also next to a supermarket frequented by middle class families.

People mourn over the death of their relative, a victim of bomb blast, outside a morgue in a local hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

“The people were torn apart. Their body parts scattered,” said Abdul Jalil, frantically searching for his brother who works at the market. Cell phone calls to the brother were not going through.

“Who are these people killing innocent people? What do they get out of it? God will not forgive them.”

While large bombings happen frequently in Pakistani cities such as the northwestern city of Peshawar or the southern port city of Karachi, they are relatively rare in the capital, which is home to diplomats, generals and top government officials.

The toll was reported by two nearby hospitals. The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences received 19 dead from the blast and 56 wounded, said an emergency room doctor, Zulfikar Ghauri. Two bodies and 31 wounded were taken to Holy Family Hospital in the nearby city of Rawalpindi said Tahir Sharif, a doctor there.

The symbolism of having such a deadly attack in Islamabad — even in an area on the edge of the city and rarely frequented by its elite — is a blow to a Pakistani government trying to increase foreign investment and project an air of security in the capital.

For Islamabad, it was the most deadly day since a March 3 attack on a court complex killed 11 people. That attack was claimed by a little-known splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban called Ahrar-ul-Hind.

The Pakistani Taliban quickly denied that they had any involvement in Wednesday’s incident, saying in a statement that they were sticking to a previously agreed-to ceasefire.

Instead, a spokesman for the United Baluch Army claimed responsibility for the bombing in a telephone call to an Associated Press reporter. The group, which emerged about a year and a half ago, is one of the newer factions among Baluch separatists fighting since the mid-2000s.

The spokesman, Mureed Baluch, said the attack was in retaliation for ongoing arrest and killings of their associates by the security forces in southwest Baluchistan province. The group first emerged about a year and a half ago.

Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest province and is plagued by violence from various factions. Separatists often attack the Pakistani military or other government targets. Sunni Muslim extremists have often targeted members of the Shiite Muslim minority. Members of the Afghan Taliban fighting across the border in their homeland are also believed to be living in the province.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power last May promising to end the years of bloodshed through negotiation instead of military operations.

Police cordon off the area of a blast in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. AP Photo/B.K. Bangash

But so far those talks have focused on the Tehrik-e-Taliban, as the Pakistani Taliban is formally called. That group is similar in ideology to the Afghan Taliban but shares a separate leadership and decision-making structure. They mostly operate in the northwest mountainous regions and in the southern city of Karachi.

Many observers question whether it’s possible to come to a peace deal with the militants, who they contend have used previous peace deals to simply regroup and fight another day.

Critics also point out that the Pakistani Taliban is made up of numerous factions and even if the umbrella organization agrees to a peace deal, it doesn’t mean all the factions will.

And as Wednesday attack shows, the Pakistani Taliban and its affiliates are not the only drivers of instability in the country.

—-

Associated Press writer Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.

11:54ET 09-04-14

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