Rawalpindi: At least 34 people were killed on Monday when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle triggered a powerful explosion close to a luxury hotel and a bank in Rawalpindi. The blast occurred barely 500 metres from the Pakistani Army Headquarters, which had come under Taliban attack last month.
The massive explosion took place on a day when the Pakistan government offered a reward of $5 million for information on the country's Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud and 18 of his associates.
At least 34 people were killed and 32 wounded in the suicide explosion in Rawalpindi cantonment area, Geo TV quoted spokesman of Rescue 1122 as saying.
The blast occurred at 1040 hours IST when people had queued up at the bank to collect their salaries.
"The suicide bomber came on a motorcycle and blew up close to people gathered to get salaries. We found parts of a suicide vest and some body parts of the suicide attacker," senior police official Aslam Tarin said.
The blast rocked Shalimar Hotel behind Pearl Continental Hotel, located on Mall Road in the cantonment area of Rawalpindi.
Most of the victims were reported to be security forces personnel.
Sajid Khan, a witness, told mediapersons that he was driving through the area when he heard the explosion.
"It was a huge blast. It was close to the General Post Office Chowk (roundabout) on Mall Road. I saw smoke rising from one of the buildings. I sped up to escape," Khan was quoted as saying.
The explosion damaged several cars waiting at a traffic signal.
"When I reached the scene there were dead and wounded people lying everywhere," DPA quoted another witness Shaukat Ali as saying.
"Some bodies did not have heads and some were missing legs. People covered the women whose clothes were burnt by the explosion. It was so shameful."
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the terror attack.
Schools in the city were shut following the blast and security personnel escorted children back home.
The heavily fortified Pakistani Army's General Headquarters had come under attack October 10 when 10 terrorists in military uniform laid siege to it. At least 19 people, including nine raiders, died in the 22-hour standoff. One militant was arrested.
The army has stepped up its offensive in South Waziristan against the Taliban, which has vowed retaliation.
The government released an advertisement on Monday offering cash reward totalling $5 million for concrete information on the whereabouts of Mehsud and his associates, who have stepped up terror strikes across Pakistan.
The advertisement says, "Anyone who captures these people dead or alive or provides concrete information, the government will award them a cash reward."
"The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) terrorists are daily involved in deadly activities and because of their activities innocent Muslims are going to the valley of death," it added.
The largest rewards of 50 million Pakistan rupees each were offered for Mehsud, senior leader Wali ur-Rehman Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud, also described as a master trainer of suicide bombers.
The latest wave of Islamist militant violence in Pakistan started with a suicide bombing at the offices of the UN World Food Programme in Islamabad on October 5.
Over 200 people have been killed in the string of terror attacks, including massive bombings. The attacks have taken place in various parts of the country, including capital Islamabad.
October 28 saw the worst terror attack in Pakistan this year when over 110 people were killed in a massive bombing in a crowded market of Peshawar.