A suicide car bomb tore through a crowded shopping street in Pakistan on Tuesday, killing 32 people in the third militant attack to strike the nuclear-armed country in as many days.
The bomber blew up his vehicle in the heart of the northwest town of Charsadda on a road lined with fruit and juice shops, ripping off shop roofs and littering the ground with slippers, human flesh and broken push carts.
The United States has put Pakistan on the frontline of its war against Al-Qaeda and has been increasingly disturbed by deteriorating security in the country where attacks and bombings have killed about 2,500 people in 28 months.
"I was buying something before closing my shop. A car was parked on the other side of the road and all of a sudden there was a huge blast," said Hazrat Ali, a shopkeeper with shrapnel wounds to his chest and forehead.
"There was smoke and darkness everywhere. I passed out," he told AFP.
The blast damaged signboards and at least six vehicles, including two buses, during the afternoon shopping rush in the town's most popular market.
"The death toll has gone up to 32 and more than 100 people have been wounded in this suicide attack," Senior Minister of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Bashir Bilour told reporters. Seven children and three women were among the dead, police said.
The wounded were being treated in Charsadda and the northwestern capital Peshawar on the edge of Pakistan's tribal belt, which US officials call the most dangerous place on Earth and a chief Al-Qaeda sanctuary.
The government blames increasing attacks on Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is the target of a major ongoing offensive and which wants to avenge the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud by a US missile in August.
Charsadda is the ideological centre of the secular Awami National Party (ANP), which is currently governing NWFP, and the town has been struck by a series of deadly bomb and suicide attacks targeting ANP leaders.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said militants were waging a "guerrilla war" to avenge the military operation against the Taliban in South Waziristan.
"They are launching suicide attacks because our army has captured their strongholds" in the tribal region, he told parliament late Tuesday.
Pakistan authorities, embarrassed and weakened by the deluge of attacks, repeatedly bat aside suggestions that security services, which have a history of supporting Islamist groups in a bid to counter rival India, could do more.
"It is a war-like situation and foolproof security is not possible in such a situation. Our police force is geared up for any emergency.... They are motivated and tackling terrorism with great courage," NWFP law minister Arshad Abdullah said.
Police said all the victims were civilians, following a similar pattern in which militants have increasingly put market places in the crosshairs of their violent campaign to destabilise the US-backed government.
It was the third suicide bombing in three days in northwest towns near Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border, where the military is pressing a major offensive into a fourth week against TTP hideouts.
Since about 30,000 troops went into battle in a three-pronged ground and air assault against 10,000 fighters in South Waziristan on October 17, attacks and bombings have killed more than 200 people.
"The attacks in cities are a part of our permanent strategy. These attacks will continue and we will attack everyone who wants to harm us," Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP by telephone before the latest bombing.
The militia has embarked on a guerrilla war from the mountains of South Waziristan, he said, hitting back at suggestions that they were being overrun or were merely escaping into nearby North Waziristan and Orakzai.
"We have started a guerrilla war in different parts of Waziristan.... We will prove that we can fight for years," Tariq said.
Pakistan's military meanwhile said troops had uncovered a Taliban jail, destroying a network of rebel caves, bunkers and towers, and killing nine militants.
No details from the army can be verified because communication lines are down and journalists and aid workers barred from the area.
The military says about 495 militants have been killed and 46 soldiers have died, a fraction of the number lost in past campaigns that ended in controversial peace deals that critics said allowed the militants to re-arm.