Peshawar market attack kills 93

An explosion at a popular women's market in Peshawar has killed at least 93 people.

The bomb blast Wednesday hit the Mina Bazaar in Peepl Mandi, a neighbourhood in the northwestern Pakistani city where many Shia Muslims live, said police official Sajid Khan.

"The car was parked outside a market frequented mostly by women," city official Azam Khan told Reuters.

The car bomb sparked fires that engulfed several buildings and filled the area with smoke. A mosque was among the severely damaged buildings, officials said.

TV footage from the area shows collapsed buildings and massive piles of debris.

"There was a deafening sound and I was like a blind man for a few minutes," said Mohammad Usman, who was wounded in attack. "I heard women and children crying and started to help others. There was the smell of human flesh in the air."

Security officials and ambulances are having trouble navigating the narrow lanes in the area and the heavy smoke is causing further traffic congestion, Khan said.

200 wounded

Medical officials said hospitals were overflowing with more than 200 victims wounded in the attack.

Dr. Zafar Iqbal said most of the injured and dead are women and children. The death toll is expected to rise, Iqbal said.

Three bombs have exploded in Peshawar this month. No group immediately claimed responsibility but attacks staged by Islamist militants this month have killed more than 200 people across the country.

North West Frontier Province Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain blamed the militants for Wednesday's attack.

"We are hitting them at their centre of terrorism, and they are hitting back targeting Peshawar," he said. "This is a tough time for us. We are picking up the bodies of our women and children, but we will follow these terrorists and eliminate them."

Officials said they believe the attack was aimed at swaying public support away from an army offensive against al-Qaeda and Taliban close to the Afghan border.

The Taliban have warned Pakistan that they would stage more attacks if the army does not end its offensive in the South Waziristan tribal region, where the military has dispatched some 30,000 troops to flush out insurgents.

Clinton in Islamabad

The attacks will not shake Pakistan from its offensive, said Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

"We will not buckle. We will fight you. We will fight you because we want peace and stability in Pakistan," he said.

Wednesday's attack also coincided with a trip to Pakistan by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who praised the Pakistani government for pressing the military offensive, while speaking in Islamabad.

"I give the Pakistani government and military high marks for taking them on," she told reporters. "That wasn't what they were doing before."

The campaign in South Waziristan, which began Oct. 17, has ramifications beyond Pakistan, Clinton said.

"Clearly these people are allies in a network of terrorism that includes al-Qaeda, and therefore we believe that what the Pakistanis are doing in standing up to extremism in Pakistan is in our national security interests," she said.

With files from The Associated Press