ISLAMABAD (AP) — A bomb ripped through a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on Wednesday morning, killing at least 18 people and leaving dozens more wounded, officials said.
The massive blast was the latest attack to shake Pakistan even as government negotiations with the Taliban pick up pace in an attempt by the authorities to resolve years of deadly fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people in the northwest.
The bomb went off as morning shoppers were buying supplies at the market, located on the outskirts of Islamabad. 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.
"I saw body parts flying in the air," said one of the fruit traders, Afzal Khan. "People were dying. People were crying. People were running."
The dead and the wounded were taken to nearby hospitals. Dr. Aisha Eisani, the spokeswoman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, said her hospital had received 18 dead and had reports from police that more dead bodies were on the way.
The hospital was also treating more than 74 people who were wounded, said another doctor, Zulfiqar Ghauri. More wounded were also taken to hospitals in Rawalpindi, the sister city to Islamabad and another hospital in the capital, Pakistan state television reported.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and the Pakistani Taliban in a statement emailed to reporters denied responsibility for the attack. The militant group said they were sticking to a previously agreed-to ceasefire.
Police and officers from the bomb disposal squad were scanning the area for more devices. The approximately five kilograms (11 pounds) of explosives were hidden in a fruit carton, said a police official, Yasin Malik.
The market is located near a makeshift camp for people displaced from fighting in Pakistan's northwest, as well as refugees from Afghanistan. It's also next to a supermarket that sells food and household items to the capital's middle class families.
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.
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 called Ahrar-ul-Hind.
Attacks like Wednesday's have continued even as the negotiations between the government and the Taliban have picked up pace, leading to questions about whether the militant group is in full control of various factions that could be behind the attacks.
Dr. Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, a lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N party, said it was difficult to say which group was behind the explosion until police complete their investigation.
Asked what the intended target was, he said: "I think peace in Pakistan is the target."