Taliban militants on Friday kept up their wave of terror attacks in Pakistan, with three suicide bombers targeting a police station in Peshawar, killing 14 persons and injuring 16 others.
A female suicide bomber was possibly among the trio who drove a car packed with about 70 kg of explosives and a motorcycle into the police station in the cantonment of the North West Frontier Province's capital, police officials said.
Targeting the city for the second consecutive day, the attackers brought down the police station, which also houses the office of the Crime Investigation Agency and severely damaged a nearby mosque.
The burqa-clad woman, who came on a motorcycle driven by a male accomplice, got off the vehicle and advanced towards a residential complex for army officers. She blew herself up when soldiers opened fire at her, Peshawar police chief Liaquat Ali Khan quoted witnesses as saying.
Meanwhile, the motorcyclist smashed his vehicle into the explosives-laden car, blowing it up into a huge fireball. Police officials said 13 people were killed with three policemen, two women and a child among the dead.
Three security personnel were among the injured. The security agencies have warned of more such strikes in coming days and said they were aimed at scuttling the army's impending assault on their stronghold of South Waziristan.
Witnesses said some persons, including a young girl, were blown to pieces by the powerful explosion, which also shattered the windows of nearby homes. However, some police officials and observers questioned reports about the involvement of a woman suicide bomber in today's attack.
Additional Inspector General of Police Shafqat Malik of the bomb disposal squad rejected reports that a burqa-clad woman had detonated herself. The officer in-charge of the police station too told reporters he believed only one bomber -- the man in the explosives-laden car -- was involved in the attack.
Observers pointed out that the conservative Pashtun culture barred the involvement of women in violence. Others said the burqa-clad person could have been a man posing as a woman.
NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters: "It was a suicide attack. The leg of the bomber has been found".
Seven of the injured are in a serious condition, he said. "The CIA office and the police were the targets of the bomber but many civilians were killed and injured," he said.
TV news channels beamed footage of the police station and the mosque, their walls blown out by the explosion. Hussain said militants had stepped up attacks in view of the government's plans to launch operations in the Taliban's stronghold of South Waziristan.
"But just as we didn't accept pressure from the militants when we were conducting operations in the Malakand division, we won't accept pressure now. We will take firm steps to end terrorism," Hussain said.
The security forces continued their pounding of Waziristan, using fighter jets and artillery guns, to soften the Taliban defences in the area. However, the Pakistan army has refused to give the timing of the offensive. An emergency was declared in all hospitals in Peshawar, where authorities have been on high alert for the past few weeks, in the wake of a wave of deadly attacks blamed on the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.