At least 22 people were killed and 70 wounded Friday when an explosion apparently tore through a market in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Parachinar, in a remote area bordering Afghanistan, officials said.
The attack, claimed by the Taliban, took place as people gathered for Friday prayers near the women’s entrance of a mosque in the central bazaar.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a faction of the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban, swiftly claimed the attack in a message sent to AFP.
Survivors described hiding inside shops after hearing a “huge bang”, as frantic bystanders rushed to help the wounded inside the busy market in Parachinar, capital of Kurram tribal district.
The local political agent, Ikramullah Khan, said the death toll had reached 22, with 70 injured.
A parliamentarian from Parachinar, Sajid Hussain, said gunfire preceded the blast, which he described as a suicide attack.
Hussain said “the attack took place in a busy area and a women’s mosque appears to be the target.”
The attack comes after a wave of militant violence killed 130 people across Pakistan in February, unnerving citizens who had been emboldened by improving security and prompting a military crackdown.
Last month, more than 80 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack on a crowded shrine in southern Pakistan that was claimed by ISIS.
In January, at least 21 people were killed when an explosion hit a vegetable market in Parachinar, capital of the Kurram tribal region, where Pakistani security forces have battled militant groups for years.
Authorities in Pakistan said a military rescue helicopter had been sent to the scene to help evacuate the injured in Friday’s blast.
Mumtaz Hussain, a doctor at the Agency Headquarters Hospital in the region, said five bodies, including a woman and two children, and more than three dozen wounded had been brought to the hospital and an appeal for blood donors had been made.
The attacks have shattered hopes that Pakistan may have come through the militant violence that has scarred its recent history and increased pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to show it was improving security.
Sharif condemned Friday’s attack and said the government would keep up efforts to “eliminate the menace of terrorism”. The prime minister offered condolences to the victims’ families and prayed for the swift recovery of those injured.
In a statement, he said: “The network of terrorists has already been broken and it is our national duty to continue this war until the complete annihilation of the scourge of terrorism from our soil.”