2 bombs hit northwestern Pakistani city; 23 dead

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Two bombs, hours apart, exploded in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday, killing 23 people and underscoring the reach of militants despite successive military offensives close to the Afghan border.

A suicide bomber was behind the deadliest blast, which occurred just before dusk in a crowded market area.

Police said the target was apparently officers watching over a rally by members of a political party against power cuts in the city. Police officers and protesters were among the 22 dead and more than 30 injured, said police chief Liaqat Ali Khan.

The rally was being held by the Jamat-e-Islami party, an Islamist grouping that is sympathetic to many of the goals of the Taliban and regularly criticizes army operations against them.

Police and two government officials blamed the Taliban for the attack. But Jamat-e-Islami spokesman Ameer-ul-Azeem declined to do so, and instead alleged that CIA or Indian intelligence were behind it — the conspiracy theory of choice for right-wing Islamists in Pakistan.

"These attacks are a conspiracy to weaken Pakistan," he said. "It is part of the game that international players are playing."

Earlier, a bomb exploded outside a school run by a police welfare foundation, killing a young boy and wounding 10 people. The school raises money to help families of police officers. The victim was a boy aged between 5 and 7. Five of the wounded were children.

Taliban and al-Qaida militants based in the Afghan border region — who are fighting Pakistani police and the army — have carried out hundreds of attacks over the last three years. They have frequently targeted security forces, government officials and their supporters or family members in mosques, schools and markets, showing no concern for civilian casualties.

The insurgents claim responsibility for many of the attacks, but tend not to when many ordinary Pakistanis die.

Peshawar has been one of the hardest-hit cities because it lies close to the border area.

Two blasts over the weekend in the nearby Kohat tribal region killed about 50 people, most of them refugees lining up to register for food and other aid.

Also Monday, suspected Taliban militants in the northwest detonated two bombs that destroyed a pair of oil tankers along a vital route used to supply NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

No one was wounded, but the fire also engulfed a flatbed truck and nearby shops in the Takhta Beg area of the Khyber tribal region, local official Iqbal Khan said.

Taliban militants and ordinary criminals frequently attack vehicles along the supply route that runs through the famed Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO say their Afghan operations have felt limited impact, but they are establishing alternate routes.