PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A bomb ripped through a bus near Pakistan’s restive northwest city of Peshawar on Friday, killing 18 people and wounding at least 40, officials said.
The bus was taking mid-level government workers from their jobs in the capital of troubled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province to their homes in the nearby town of Charsadda when the explosion happened.
It was the second major attack to hit Peshawar in a week. On Sunday, at least 84 people were killed in a double suicide bombing in a historic Anglican church in the city, among the worst attacks on Christians in the nation’s 66-year history, sparking angry street demonstrations in cities across the country. A Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility.
The nation has also been reeling from a massive earthquake that struck the fractious southwestern Baluchistan province, which is battling a separatist insurgency, reportedly killing more than 400 people. Since Tuesday’s magnitude 7.7 temblor, Baluch militants have mounted sporadic attacks on aid workers and paramilitary forces engaged in rescue operations.
No one took immediate responsibility for Friday’s bombing, which occurred just after noon. However, some analysts surmised that the church bombing and the bus attack, in rapid succession, were aimed at derailing proposed peace talks with the Taliban, perhaps reflecting rivalries within the militant camp.
Media reports said about 70 people were on the bus when the explosion took place some 12 miles east of Peshawar. Bomb squad officials estimated that approximately 15 pounds of explosives were used in the device, which was detonated by remote control.
Provincial police chief Nasir Durrani said the explosive device was probably planted in the rear of the bus, given the concentration of damage in that area. Officials said it appeared that the device was either magnetically attached or planted on board the bus as luggage.
Television footage showed the remnants of the bus, a twisted mass of metal with its roof partially blown off, seat cushions destroyed and window panes completely missing, as men in long tunics and red caps searched the wreckage for clues.
Peshawar, among the most violence-plagued Pakistani cities in recent years, is at the edge of the nation’s volatile tribal region, a hotbed for the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups.
The attack comes amid a heated debate in Pakistan over how to tackle terrorism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received support from various competing political parties to negotiate with the Taliban. Since then, however, the group has assassinated a general and targeted worshipers at the Anglican church, sparking public outrage and raising questions about a negotiations strategy.
Sharif, who is in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, is reportedly reconsidering his willingness to talk to militants, arguing that they first lay down their arms and recognize Pakistan’s constitution. Taliban officials have said the government must pull soldiers out of militant areas and release their colleagues in prisons before they will negotiate.
Friday’s attack mirrors a strike in June 2012, when about 20 government workers were killed in a bus bombing in the same area.
Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar, and staff writer Magnier reported from Karachi, Pakistan.