A suicide bomber on Friday targeted a senior Pakistani police commander, killing 12 people, including two women, near the US consulate in Peshawar, officials said.
It was the latest in a string of attacks as the country prepares to hold historic elections on May 11. The vote will mark the first democratic transition of power in Pakistan, which has been governed by four military rulers.
A security official said Abdul Majeed Marwat, commander of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, survived the attack and was taken to a military hospital with “only scratches”.
Around 28 other people were wounded in the blast, medics said.
“It was a suicide attack, the target was the FC commander,” police official Arshad Khan told AFP.
Witnesses said the bomber was on foot and struck when the convoy of the police chief stopped at a military check post in the busy cantonment area of Peshawar.
The checkpost is about 300 metres from the heavily guarded American consulate, which has itself been the target of attacks in the past, an AFP reporter said.
“We have received six dead bodies, including two women,” Sayed Jameel Shah, a spokesman for Peshawar’s main Lady Reading Hospital, told AFP.
He later confirmed that two of the injured died in hospital.
“They were in serious condition in the neurosurgery ward,” he said.
Another four bodies and 17 other wounded were taken to the Combined Military Hospital, a senior security official told AFP.
Among the dead were two soldiers and one member of the FC, while the wounded were a mixture of civilians and military personnel, officials said.
The blast damaged two motorcycles and four cars, including Marwat’s vehicle. Splashes of blood lay on the ground and an AFP reporter saw a pair of legs, presumed to be that of the bomber.
Umar Din, 21, a rickshaw driver, said the force of the explosion flipped his rickshaw onto the ground.
“I came out and saw my passenger bleeding,” he told AFP. “I picked up the passenger on my shoulder and ran to a safer place, it was horrible, people were bleeding and crying,” he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Pakistani police, soldiers and paramilitary units are frequently targeted by domestic Taliban, who have been fighting an insurgency since July 2007.
There are fears that rampant insecurity could prove a major challenge for the elections, not least in Peshawar, a key electoral battleground and home to 2.5 million on the edge of the tribal belt, a Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold.
The relatively nearby Tirah Valley has offered Pakistan’s umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban a new base in the tribal district of Khyber, beyond the reach of ground troops and posing a heightened threat to Peshawar.
On Tuesday a girls’ school teacher was shot dead in Khyber and last Saturday a suicide attack killed 17 soldiers in North Waziristan, the most notorious of the seven districts that make up the semi-autonomous tribal belt.
On March 21, a car bomb killed 17 people at Jalozai, the country’s largest refugee camp, as scores of people queued for rations, just outside Peshawar.
Pakistan says more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.