PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Twin suicide blasts in a crowded market in western Pakistan on Friday killed at least 40 people and injured as least 100 in an apparent sectarian attack, residents said, presenting a fresh challenge to the administration of newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The explosions occurred in Parachinar, a Shiite Muslim-dominated town west of Peshawar near the Afghan border, about two hours before the evening meal that breaks the daylong fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Shiite Muslims are a minority sect in Pakistan frequently attacked by the Sunni Muslim majority, many of whom don’t view them as true Muslims.
“There was a rush to buy food in the bazaar before Iftar when the explosions took place,” said Wazir Ali, an engineer living in Parachinar, who added that the apparently coordinated blasts occurred in rapid succession. Many of the dozens of injured victims taken to a government hospital were in critical condition, he said.
“The government is making arrangements to evacuate seriously injured people to Peshawar,” said an official, adding that army and paramilitary forces had set upcheckpoints on main roads leading out of Parachinar.
Muhammad Hussain, a resident in the city of about 50,000, said the number of injured overwhelmed the local hospital, leading to a severe shortage of beds. “Many of the injured were forced to lay out on the ground,” he added.
Dr. Abdullah Jan said the local hospital received at least 40corpses and treated at least 190 injured. In a triage operation, those with minor injuries were dischargedquickly to make room for people with more serious injuries, he added.
Residents said the bomb sites were littered with damaged handcarts and cars and broken glass from nearby shops. President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the blasts and expressed sympathy for the victim’s families.
In a separate attack, two other people were killed in a landmine blast in the Kurram Agency, where Parachinar is located.
Also on Friday, the Jundullah group of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for this week’s attack on the regional Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency headquarters in the eastern province of Sindh. The death toll in the Wednesday attack rose to nine.
A Jundullah spokesman told local media by telephone from an undisclosed location that four suicide bombers mounted the attack, which was carried out to avenge the killing of Taliban deputy chief Wali Ur Rehman, killed last month in a drone strike. The spokesman reportedly said the Pakistan intelligence officials were friends of the United States, which made them targets.
Much of mountainous northwest Pakistan, including the Kurram tribal region, has been plagued by violence for years as Taliban militants in the area have attempted to destabilize the Pakistani government by mounting attacks on security forces with suicide bombs and armed assaults.
Friday’s explosions are the latest challenge for Sharif, who campaigned on a promise to stem violence and fix the economy. Pakistan’s Taliban-led insurgency has killed thousands of civilians and security officials since 2007.
Washington considers the northwest tribal belt a refuge for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants plotting attacks on Western forces stationed in neighboring Afghanistan.