Explosion strikes bus carrying commuters in northern Pakistan, killing 16

At least 16 people were killed and 40 wounded when a powerful bomb ripped through a moving bus Wednesday in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Officials said the bus was carrying government employees on their way to work. The bus carrying more than 50 men and women was passing through a congested road in Peshawar near a mosque when an explosive device went off, witnesses said.

It was the latest attack in northern Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which has been hard-hit by militant violence in recent months as the Pakistani military has pressed an offensive against Islamist extremists in the country's troubled tribal belt.

“I was serving breakfast when I heard the blast," said Rehman Ullah, a waiter in a nearby restaurant. "I thought it happened inside the mosque, but suddenly I heard cries of people from inside the bus.”

Local people rushed to remove bodies and wounded people trapped in the bus. One witness said he and other volunteers retrieved 12 bodies.

Doctors at Lady Reading Hospital, one of the largest in Peshawar, the provincial capital, said five wounded people were in critical condition.

A senior police officer, Mohammad Kashif, said the explosive was a timed device that was planted inside the bus. Government employees from rural areas of the province used private buses to commute to work.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but militants have intensified their attacks on civilian targets in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite pressure from the army offensive. The army has launched what it said is the last phase of its anti-militant operation -- dubbed Zarb-e-Azb -- in the Shawal area of the North Waziristan tribal area.

The explosion came a day after the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, signed off on the death sentences of 13 men convicted by Pakistani military courts of involvement in acts of terrorism. An official statement said all the convicts were members of the Pakistani Taliban, a banned militant organization that has been waging a long-running insurgency against the Pakistani state.

Ali is a special corespondent.

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