Blast Kills Scores In Pakistan During Clinton Visit

People gather at the site of an explosion in Peshawar. i

People gather at the site of an explosion in Peshawar. Mohammad Sajjad/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Mohammad Sajjad/AP
People gather at the site of an explosion in Peshawar.

People gather at the site of an explosion in Peshawar.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP
A Pakistani police officer makes his way through wreckage. i

A Pakistani police officer makes his way through wreckage after an explosion in Peshawar, Pakistan on Wednesday. A car bomb tore through a marketplace in northwestern Pakistan hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the country. Mohammad Sajjad/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Mohammad Sajjad/AP
A Pakistani police officer makes his way through wreckage.

A Pakistani police officer makes his way through wreckage after an explosion in Peshawar, Pakistan on Wednesday. A car bomb tore through a marketplace in northwestern Pakistan hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the country.

Mohammad Sajjad/AP

A massive car bomb ripped through a main market area Wednesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, killing at least 100 people and wounding hundreds. The attack came while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was visiting the country.

The deadliest attack in two years in Pakistan wounded more than 200 people and caps a month that has seen a major upsurge in violence in the troubled country. No one claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the government blamed militants seeking to avenge an army offensive launched in the last few weeks against al-Qaida and Taliban in their stronghold close to the Afghan border.

"These attacks on innocent people are cowardly. They are not courageous," said Clinton, speaking in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad shortly after her arrival.

The bomb, which officials said contained as much as 330 pounds of explosives, wreaked havoc in Meena bazaar, a market in the Peepal Mandi area of the city that houses an eclectic array of stalls selling mainly women's clothes and accessories and children's toys.

North West Frontier Province Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said 100 people were killed. A doctor said 60 of the dead were either women or children.

The car bomb collapsed buildings, including a mosque, and set shops on fire.

Peshawar officials said the explosion was caused by a car bomb. It sparked a fire that engulfed the area and gutted dozens of shops.

NPR's Jackie Northam, who is traveling with Clinton, said the attack threatens to "overshadow what [Clinton] really means to accomplish here."

"Really more than anything else, this is a public relations effort on her part," Northam told NPR's Morning Edition.

Speaking from Islamabad, Northam said there was "a profound sense of anti-Americanism here" and that the city had been virtually shut down for security reasons while the secretary of state visited.

The attack in Peshawar follows a major military offensive against Taliban insurgents in the South Waziristan region that borders Afghanistan.

"The Taliban warned the military that it would retaliate if they went ahead with this," Northam said.

Clinton, on her first visit to Pakistan as secretary of state, was a three-hour drive away in the capital, Islamabad, when the blast took place. Speaking to reporters, she praised the army's South Waziristan offensive and offered Washington's support.

"I want you to know this fight is not Pakistan's alone," Clinton said. "These extremists are committed to destroying what is dear to us as much as they are committed to destroying that which is dear to you and to all people. So this is our struggle as well."

Clinton's aim for the visit is aimed at smoothing ruffled feathers among Pakistani leaders who have felt extreme U.S. pressure to clamp down on Islamic extremists who use the border region as a sanctuary to carry out attacks on coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan, Northam said.

"Everyone you speak to ... whether it be on the American side or the Pakistani side, everyone agrees that there's a real deficit of trust between the two nations," Northam said.

Appearing with Clinton, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the violence would not break his government's will to fight back.

"The resolve and determination will not be shaken," Qureshi said. "People are carrying out such heinous crimes — they want to shake our resolve. I want to address them: We will not buckle. We will fight you. We will fight you because we want peace and stability in Pakistan."

No group claimed responsibility for the bombing, but that is not unusual, especially when the victims are Pakistani civilians.

Militants shocked the nation by attacking the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, near the capital, earlier this month.

From NPR and wire service reports

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