PESHAWAR, Pakistan – The death toll from an overnight car bombing rose to 29 in northwest Pakistan, unnerving a region already dangerously on edge following the attacks on India's commercial capital, police and doctors said Saturday.
About 100 people were also wounded Friday when the bomb went off near Peshawar's famed Storytellers Bazaar, wrecking a Shiite Muslim mosque and a hotel and setting a string of vehicles and shops ablaze, said Mohammed Khan, a local police official.
Television footage showed survivors frantically carrying bloodied victims through the rubble to private cars and ambulances as fire crews sought to douse the flames.
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Neither the motive nor the culprits behind the blast were clear. But provincial government chief Haider Khan Hoti said "external forces" could be to blame — a comment understood in Pakistan to mean India.
Sahib Khan, a doctor at a main hospital said Saturday that they received 20 bodies after the blast, while another nine injured died overnight. He said some of the injured were still in critical condition.
Further adding to the tension, a suspected U.S. missile strike reportedly killed three people in a stronghold of the Taliban and Al Qaeda near the border with Afghanistan.
Escalating violence is destabilizing Pakistan's northwest just as the country faces accusations from archrival India that the gunmen behind the carnage in Mumbai last week were trained in Pakistan and steered by militants based there.
The provincial police chief, Malik Naveed Khan, said the bomb seemed to contain chemicals designed to spread fire.
Pakistan and the United States have stepped up operations against Taliban and Al Qaeda strongholds in the northwest to curb mounting attacks launched from there on targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There have been more than 30 suspected U.S. missile strikes since August, including one on Friday in the North Waziristan region, part of Pakistan's wild tribal belt viewed as possible hiding place for Usama bin Laden.
Three Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press that one missile hit a house in the village of Khushali Turikhel and another landed in a field.
The officials, who cited reports from agents and informants in the area, said three people were killed and two others injured, however the identity of the victims was not known.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the record to media.
The missiles are apparently fired from drone aircraft that take off from Afghanistan. U.S. officials rarely confirm or deny responsibility though American leaders have said the attacks have killed several militant leaders this year.
Insurgents have responded with an onslaught of gun and bomb attacks that have sparked concern about the possible disruption of a key supply line for NATO and U.S. troops that cuts through Peshawar and the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.