A suicide bomber struck a busy commercial area near the Pakistan Army's [ Images ] headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Monday, killing at least 34 people, including military personnel.
The blast caused considerable damage to the facade of the Shalimar Hotel on Mall Road, less than a kilometre from the Army's fortified General Headquarters that was besieged by a group of terrorists nearly a month ago.
The blast, which occurred despite stepped up security in the area after the attack on the military headquarters and targeting of senior Army officers, wounded over 40 people, police said.
Several Army officers' messes, sensitive military installations and other hotels are located near the hotel.
Police officials were quoted by Dawn News channel as saying that a suspected motorcycle-borne suicide bomber blew himself up outside the hotel when policemen tried to intercept him.
Many people, including pensioners, who had come to a state-run bank near the hotel to collect their salaries and pensions were among the dead and injured.
Witnesses said that private security guards and army personnel were also among the victims in the explosion that occurred at 10.40 am. Military police and paramilitary personnel cordoned off the area and diverted traffic from the road in front of the hotel.
Zahid Dara, who witnessed the blast, told reporters: "I fell off my motorcycle when the blast occurred. People began running helter-skelter in panic. I saw the blast had occurred outside the hotel, near which there are several banks, travel agencies and other offices".
Ambulances and fire fighting vehicles rushed to the site to launch rescue operations. An emergency was declared in hospitals in Rawalpindi.
Dara said he had seen private security guards and army personnel among the dead and injured.
"Several people in cars that were passing the hotel were also killed," he added.
The attack came nearly a month after an audacious terrorist strike on the General Headquarters in the city in which 14 people were killed before army commandos gunned down most of the attackers.
The attackers had also taken nearly 50 people hostage in an office of the Military Intelligence agency.
Taliban [ Images ] militants have struck several times, killing about 250 people, in recent weeks in what are believed to be retaliatory strikes against the army's offensive in the country's northwest.
Some 115 people, mostly women and children, were killed when a car bomb packed with 150 kg of explosives ripped through a bustling commercial hub in Peshawar last week, coinciding with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's [ Images ] Pakistan visit.