KARACHI, Pakistan - A powerful bomb killed at least 10 people, nine of them civilians, when it exploded yesterday afternoon near an army truck parked in a crowded outdoor market in Quetta, Pakistani officials said.
The attack, one of the deadliest in the country this year, could signal that the government now faces two separate security threats: one from religious militants concentrated in the country's northwestern tribal areas, the other from ethnic nationalists in the southwest, in Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital.
Pakistani officials said the bomb, hidden in a bicycle, was detonated around 4 p.m. But instead of killing soldiers, it devastated the crowd at the busy market, the officials said. Pakistani television showed images of destroyed vehicles, shattered shop windows and dazed survivors.
Several hours after the bombing, a man who identified himself as a spokesman for the little-known Baluchistan National Army called a local journalist and claimed responsibility, the Associated Press reported. "Our target was the army truck and the soldiers," said the man, who gave his name as Mir Azad Baluch, which means "the Honorable Free Baluchistan."
The caller said his group was responsible for similar attacks in the city and vowed it would "continue to target military personnel until the federal government abandons plans to set up new garrisons in Baluchistan and gives the people of our province their due share from the resources."
Until now, small-scale attacks attributed to shadowy Baluch nationalists or feuding tribesmen have killed few people in the province.
Ethnic Baluch nationalists say they oppose the planned construction of Pakistani army bases in Baluchistan and accuse the army-dominated government of cheating the province out of its share of revenues from gas and oil reserves.
Residents of the country's smaller, more impoverished provinces have long complained that residents of the country's most populous and wealthiest province, the Punjab, dominate Pakistan's government and the army.
Quetta's police chief, Pervez Rafi Bhatti, told reporters that a specific political group was responsible for the explosion, not the Islamic militants who are also believed to be active in the city, state-run media reported. Bhatti did not name the group, but said it had been detonating bombs in Baluchistan for two and a half years, apparently a reference to the Baluchistan National Army.
Bhatti said the attack was not in retaliation for a Dec. 1 Pakistani raid on the city's outskirts that left one suspected Chechen militant dead and another captured. Suspected Sunni Muslim militants killed 44 minority Shiite Muslims when they attacked a religious procession in March and another 50 Shiite Muslims when they stormed a Shiite mosque with machine guns and grenades in July 2003.
The city is also believed to be home to large numbers of Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Afghan officials say Quetta serves as a hub for Taliban fighters carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan.
President Pervez Musharraf condemned the bombing, calling it a terrorist attack by people who were working against development in the country.