PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A powerful car bomb tore through a crowded market in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing at least 16 people in an attack that local authorities said was meant for the offices of an anti-Taliban militia.
The blast occurred in Darra Adam Khel, a town on the edge of Pakistan’s volatile tribal region and known as a major hub for illegal arms trafficking. No one was inside the anti-Taliban militia office at the time of the attack. Instead, the dead and wounded were shoppers and merchants at a nearby bazaar, local officials said.
At least 33 people were injured in the attack. There were conflicting reports on whether the blast was detonated by a suicide bomber or by remote control. Authorities said they suspected that the Pakistani Taliban, the insurgent group behind the assassination attempt on 14-year-old education rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai last week, was behind Saturday’s attack in Darra Adam Khel. A local Taliban spokesman denied any responsibility for the car bomb blast.
In 2010, the Pakistani Taliban dispatched a suicide bomber to a mosque in Darra Adam Khel, killing 65 worshippers. At least 300 worshippers were inside the mosque at the time of the attack. The Taliban have maintained a presence in the small town since 2008.
Yousafzai remained in critical condition at a military hospital in Rawalpindi, though doctors say her condition has improved. After the attack, she underwent successful surgery to remove a bullet that had struck her temple and lodged in her neck. Officials say she is still on a ventilator, but there is no indication that the teenager suffered any brain damage.
On Tuesday, two Taliban gunmen on a motorcycle boarded the school van Yousafzai was traveling in and shot her and two of her schoolmates. One of the girls is in critical condition. The other was not seriously hurt.
In recent days, there have been conflicting accounts of whether key arrests have been made in connection with the attack, with some officials telling local media that three or four people have been formally arrested, and others saying dozens of people have been detained for questioning only. Authorities have said they have yet to track down the two gunmen who carried out the attack or the Taliban commanders who masterminded the attempt on Yousafzai’s life.
-- Zulfiqar Ali and Alex Rodriguez. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar, and staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad.