Peshawar (Pakistan) (AFP) – A powerful bomb tore through a bus carrying government workers in restive northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing at least 18 people, officials said.
More than 40 others were wounded in the attack on the bus hired by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government to take staff home from work.
The blast came on the edge of provincial capital Peshawar, which has long been a flashpoint for a local Taliban insurgency targeting government officials, security forces and ordinary civilians.
A double suicide bombing on a church in the city on Sunday killed 82 people, an attack that horrified even a nation used to a daily diet of blasts and shootings, and cast doubt on proposed talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
Nasir Durrani, the police chief of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told reporters the remote-controlled bomb was planted at the back of the bus, which was reduced to a tangled mess of twisted metal by the force of the blast.
Another police officer, Najeebur Rehman, told AFP 18 people had been killed. Shah Farman, provincial minister of information, confirmed the toll and said there were 44 wounded.
An eyewitness speaking on GEO news channel said the blast was so powerful it threw victims’ bodies clear of the vehicle and onto the roadside.
The target was government employees, Sahibzada Mohammad Anis, the commissioner of Peshawar, told AFP. The bus was heading to the town of Charsadda when the bomb went off.
A near-identical attack on a government staff bus in another Peshawar suburb in June last year killed 19 people.
Peshawar runs into the semi-autonomous tribal belt that U.S. officials consider a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and insurgents fighting both in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan.
The umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction has led a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state in recent years, carrying out hundreds of attacks on security forces and government targets.
Two weeks ago, Pakistan’s main political parties backed the idea of peace talks with the militants, floated several times by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
But a series of attacks since then, including the killing of a senior army commander, have led many to question the strategy.
The TTP has denied it was behind the church bombing, but peace agreements with them in the past have quickly fallen apart.
Pakistan is on the frontline of the U.S.-led war on Al-Qaeda and since July 2007 has been gripped by a local Taliban-led insurgency, concentrated largely in the northwest.