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A car bomb tore through a packed Pakistani market near a police station on Wednesday, killing nine people in the fifth attack in the city of Peshawar in less than a week, officials said.
The bomb was planted in a car, devastating shops and vehicles as civilians thronged the congested area at the start of the working day in the northwestern city at the forefront of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked attacks.
Peshawar abuts Pakistan's tribal belt, where US drones target fighters active in the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, and where Afghan and Pakistani troops clashed along the border on Wednesday, killing one Pakistani soldier.
Pakistan suffers near-daily attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants that have killed more than 4,000 people since government troops evicted Islamists from an Islamabad mosque in a deadly July 2007 siege.
"It was a timed bomb. The target was police. He parked the car here due to the rush," senior police official Mohammad Ijaz Khan told reporters.
Peshawar's main Lady Reading Hospital said it had received nine dead after the attack, including three children and one woman.
"Children and women are among the injured as well," hospital chief Abdul Hamid Afridi told AFP.
Peshawar city police chief Liaquat Ali Khan confirmed the toll and said more than 20 people were wounded. An AFP reporter saw 23 patients being treated in hospital, including six children aged four to 12.
Housewife Asmara Bibi was sitting in the back of a Datsun pick-up en route to a nearby village to visit relatives when the bomb exploded.
"A wave of flames hit me. It was so powerful, I thought I was in a furnace. My burqa also caught fire and I threw it away," she said.
"My kids were also burnt and I cried for them. After that I don't remember what happened. When I came round in the hospital, my relatives told me they're injured but safe."
Bomb disposal official Tanvir Ahmad told reporters that 40 to 45 kilograms (90 to 100 pounds) of explosives were used. "Four vehicles were destroyed and 16 shops were badly damaged. Some of them were completely destroyed," he said.
On Monday, twin bomb attacks targeting police in Peshawar killed six people. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a police patrol in which a teenage bomber killed five people on the city's outskirts.
On Saturday, a double truck bombing killed four people at a tunnel connecting Peshawar to the garrison town of Kohat.
Homegrown Taliban, who are fiercely opposed to the US-allied government, recently vowed to step up attacks on Pakistani police and security forces.
Up to 40 militants armed with guns and rockets stormed a checkpost in the tribal district of Mohmand on the Afghan border, killing three soldiers and wounding four in an area where troops are battling to eliminate insurgents.
A military official said troops killed 15 militants in a counter-attack at the paramilitary Frontier Corps post in Anargi town.
Pakistan's northwest and tribal areas have been wracked by violence, mostly targeting security officials, since hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters sought refuge there after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The military has claimed victory in a number of battles against militants, perhaps most notably in 2009 in the Taliban's former headquarters of South Waziristan, but attacks have continued across the country.
Washington has said eliminating militant sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal belt, particularly North Waziristan, is vital to winning the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and defeating Al-Qaeda.
But General David Rodriguez, deputy US commander in Afghanistan, said Tuesday that US-led NATO forces can still win the war if Pakistan does not move against militant havens.
"We're going to encourage them to do more because that makes it easier on what we're doing. But I think it's still doable, without them decreasing what they've been doing, which is significant," he said.
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