PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A series of blasts struck a crowded movie theater in this restive provincial capital on Tuesday, killing 11 people and wounding 17 others, police said.
The attack at Shama Cinema, which occurred as about 100 moviegoers were watching a film, was the latest in a spate of explosions that have marred the Pakistani government's nascent attempts to enter into peace talks with a banned Islamist militant group.
The militant group known as the Pakistani Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, just as it did in two separate bombings earlier this week. Peace negotiators nominated by the group were due to hold their first meeting later this week with a government committee, although there was little hope for a breakthrough.
[Updated 9:31 a.m. PST Feb. 11: Pakistani Taliban negotiators held their first informal meeting Tuesday with a government committee, with a formal meeting to be held in the capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday.]
Three explosions caused by Chinese-made hand grenades occurred in quick succession in the main hall of Shama Cinema, said Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan, filling the main theater with thick black smoke.
Gul Bhar, who was in the theater, said that all the lights went out when the first blast occurred, terrifying the crowd.
"People were crying and [then] two more explosions took place," he said.
Rescue workers and police rushed to the cinema, moving the dead and wounded to the city's Lady Reading Hospital. Of the 17 wounded, two were in critical condition, doctors said.
The explosions, which came a day after a suicide bomber killed four women on Peshawar's outskirts, were the second attack at a cinema in the city this month. Five people were killed when two hand grenades exploded at a movie theater on Feb. 2 as patrons were watching an evening show.
On Sunday, an attack at a shrine in the southern port city of Karachi killed eight worshipers.
Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician whose party leads a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital, condemned the attack and said that it was an attempt to sabotage peace talks. Khan has been one of the most prominent proponents of negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban insurgents.