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Deadly explosion rips through crowded Pakistan market

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- At least 19 people were killed and about 50 injured when a high-intensity explosion ripped through Islamabad's crowded fruit and vegetable market Wednesday, police said.

A witness said the explosion happened at about 8:10 a.m. during the peak business hour.

[Updated, 7 a.m. PDT April 9: Later in the day, the death toll was raised to at least 23, according to Islamabad Police Chief Khalid Khattak. He said more than 100 people were wounded in the blast.]

Muhammad Ismail, a broker in the market estimated that he was about 220 yards away from the blast. "There were at least 200 people around the point where bomb ripped off. I heard a huge blast, which was followed by huge smoke. I saw cut limbs of people flying in front of my eye. There was blood and cries," he said. "We rushed to the point to help people. Most of them had lost their limbs. It was horrible. A friend of mine died right in front of eyes."

Fruit and vegetable traders blamed shoddy security for the blast. “There is not a single entry or exit point in the market. There are no police officials deployed at the market. It is an open-for-all place,” said trader Abdullah Khan.

Khattak said nine to 10 pounds of explosive material caused the blast. “The explosive material was planted in a crate of guava fruit. The brokers in the market were auctioning the fruit when the bomb went off," he said.

Khattak defended the market's security measures, saying that it was not humanly possible to check each and every vehicle and person coming into a place such as a fruit and vegetable market.

Hospital authorities in Islamabad told local media that at least 20 people were killed and that more casualties were possible. Professor Javed Akram, head of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, where the majority of victims were brought, told media that nine patients were in critical condition and that four others were in very critical condition.

Authorities cordoned off the area and declared the rescue operation complete.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, though Pakistanis on social media pointed fingers toward the Pakistani Taliban, which issued a statement denouncing the attack. Spokesman Shahidullah Shahid called it illegal to attack innocent people in public places.

The Pakistani Taliban announced a monthlong cease-fire in March, which was extended to April 10. Pakistani officials conducted several rounds of peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban's nominated committee in Islamabad and also with members of its central council in tribal areas.

On March 3, militants from a lesser known terrorist group, Ahararul Hind, launched a bomb-and-gun attack on the district courts complex in Islamabad, killing 11 people including a judge.

Sahi is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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