A Pakistani paramedic carries an injured blast victim at a hospital in Peshawar following a bomb explosion in the main bazaar of Landi Kotal in Khyber tribal district. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: A bomb planted in a pickup truck killed at least 26 people at a market in northwest Pakistan on Saturday and wounded 65, security and hospitals officials said, in one of the largest bombing death tolls in weeks.

The target in the town of Landi Kotal appeared to be a tribal leader allied with the government against the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamist militant group blamed for many of the suicide bombings across the country, security officials said. Hospital officials said 65 people were wounded, most of them fruit and vegetable vendors.

Several houses and shops were damaged in a fire triggered by the blast, the report said.

A local television channel quoted witnesses as saying the bomb exploded in a pickup vehicle parked near a bakery.

The blast took place in the main bazaar of Landi Kotal in Khyber tribal district, local administration official Arshad Khan said.

Death toll

“The bomb exploded near a bus stand and the death toll has gone up to 13," Khan said revising an earlier figure of 11 fatalities.

He said 37 people were wounded, 11 of whom were in serious condition and had been taken to Peshawar for treatment.

Irfan Ahmad, a doctor at the state run Landi Kotal Hospital, confirmed the casualties. “We have received over a dozen bodies,” he said. The dead included two children aged nine and ten.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but militants have carried out several attacks in the area.

Since July 2007, a Taliban-led insurgency concentrated in the northwest has fought Pakistan’s US-allied government.

Khan said the blast appeared to be aimed at members of the pro-government Zakha Khel tribe, who oppose a local warlord, Mangal Bagh. His Lashkar-i-Islam group has links to Islamist militants and criminal gangs.

“The bomb was planted in a pick-up truck parked near the bus stand,” Khan said.

Six shops were gutted and several damaged in the blast, which also destroyed at least eight vehicles, he added.

In the last five years, attacks blamed on militants have killed more than 5,000 people in Pakistan according to an AFP tally.

Safe haven

US officials the country’s semi-autonomous tribal belt a safe haven for Al Qaida and insurgents fighting both in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan.

Last week a bomb ripped through a passenger bus, killing 19 people, including seven women and a child, on the outskirts of Peshawar, the main city in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It was the deadliest attack in months on Peshawar, which has long been a flashpoint for the insurgency.

Pakistan’s relations with the United States are in disarray and it has imposed a blockade on Nato supplies crossing overland into Afghanistan since US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border last November.

Khyber Agency is one of the seven federally administered tribal districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which has suffered terrorist attacks frequently at the hands of the outlawed Tehreek Taliban Pakistan.

The radio report said President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani have strongly condemned the bomb explosion.

President Zardari reiterated the resolve of the government to continue the fight against terrorism and bring the terrorist elements to justice, it added.

With inputs from Reuters