PESHAWAR, Pakistan – An apparent suicide bombing killed at least 13 people Saturday in this volatile frontier city, a day after a suicide attack killed a bomber and a hotel security guard in the Pakistani capital.
It was not immediately clear whether the attack in Peshawar, which came during the year’s most important Shiite Muslim holiday, was an act of sectarian violence or was aimed at police and paramilitary forces guarding the event. Nearly all the dead were reported to be police officers, including the city’s police chief.
Scores of people were wounded in the powerful blast, which took place near one of the city’s largest mosques before the start of an evening Shiite procession to commemorate the festival of Ashura.
Adding to the chaos, a power failure apparently caused by the explosion plunged the area into darkness. Rescuers groped their way in the dark, guided by the cries and moans of the injured. Several of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf issued a statement denouncing the blast as a “terrorist attack.” Provincial authorities convened an emergency meeting to discuss ways to prevent further violence.
Police said that they could not confirm that it had been a suicide attack, but the dismembered condition of one of the bodies suggested that the explosives had been strapped to it.
The explosion came despite extremely tight security in Peshawar’s city center in connection with Ashura, which is a traditional flashpoint for violence between Pakistan’s minority Shiites and majority Sunnis. Angry Shiites poured into the streets after the attack, calling for revenge.
The attack occurred as a U.S. congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was visiting Islamabad, about 90 miles from Peshawar. The delegation held discussions with Musharraf centering on Pakistan’s role in fighting the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.
On Friday, a bomber carried out a rare suicide attack in Islamabad, targeting a luxury hotel frequented by diplomats and foreigners. However, the attacker was prevented from entering the Marriott by a security guard, who was killed along with the bomber.
No claim of responsibility was issued for the attack, which took part in a high-security zone of the capital that is the site of many government offices.
Ashura, which falls on Monday or Tuesday depending on lunar sighting, is the climax of the holy month of Moharram. It is a time when devout Shiite Muslims engage in fervent and emotional displays of faith, whipping themselves with chains to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.