ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 22 people were killed and more than 80 injured in an early morning blast Wednesday in a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of the city, police and doctors said.
The blast was said to be a high-intensity explosion. Police in Pakistan’s capital city said that about 11 pounds of explosives were planted in crates of guava fruit that were brought from different cities to be sold at the market. The detonation left a foot-deep crater and damaged nearby stalls and some vehicles.
Doctors at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences said that 80 injured people, some of them in critical condition, were taken to hospitals in Islamabad and nearby Rawalpindi.
Among those killed and injured were fruit sellers, shoppers and laborers.
“I had gone to the market for buying fruits when the explosion took place,” said an eyewitness, Murad Khan, 40, who received minor bruises. He said the explosion knocked him to the ground.
“When I regained my senses, I saw dead bodies, blood on ground, injured people crying for help and others running here and there in panic,” Khan said.
The explosion occurred at a time when the Pakistani government, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is engaged in peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
The talks are aimed at bringing peace to the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, including restive North Waziristan, which is said to be the hub of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
“At the time of the blast, around 2,000 people were present in the market,” said Khalid Khattak, Islamabad’s police chief. “It’s an act of terror.” He said nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the blast and that an investigation is underway.
In a statement, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid condemned the blast and said his organization had nothing to do with the attack.
Pakistani Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid promised: “We will root out the terrorism. The government is trying to isolate those people who carry out such attacks.”
He added, “For the first time, the elements that are always blamed for terrorist attacks have condemned this act of terror and distanced themselves from it.”
Retired Brig. Gen. Mahmood Shah, a Pakistani security and defense analyst and former security chief of the tribal regions, called the blast “a serious development” that would have a “negative impact on talks between the government and the Taliban.”
He said in an interview that “some intelligence reports suggested that the Taliban could carry out such attacks, which they would disown later, to build pressure on the government.” If the market attack is part of such a plan, “then the damage would be very serious,” he said.
“Also, more such attacks, if they continue, could derail the whole process of negotiations,” Shah said.