PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A bomb targeting a militia opposed to the Pakistani Taliban exploded in a market close to the Afghan border Tuesday, killing 29 people in the deadliest blast in the country in several months, officials said.
The explosion, likely detonated by remote control, hit vehicles being used by the militia in the Khyber region, said local security officer Khan Dad Khan.
Government officials in the area said 29 people were killed and 37 wounded, at least 20 of whom are in critical condition.
"It was huge blast and caused damage to a number of vehicles," Khyber tribesman Khan Zaman told Reuters from the Jamrud bazaar, 15 miles west of Peshawar.
Shopkeeper Sharif Gul said the blast ignited a huge fire.
"People were burning," he said at a hospital in Peshawar, the main town in the northwest. "There was nothing to put out the fire."Slideshow: Pakistan: A nation in turmoil (on this page)
Tribesman said members of the pro-government Zakhakhel tribal militia were the target of the attack. Members of the militia -- or "lashkar" -- were filling their vehicles at the station when the bomb exploded.
"There was a loud explosion, everything shook," said Fariz Ullah, a fruit seller in Jamrud near the fuel station.
"We all ran to the station. There were bodies everywhere. I saw bodies missing hands and feet," he said.
The army has supported the formation of anti-Taliban militias in northwest Pakistan, but the insurgents have ruthlessly attacked the groups over the last two years. Many of the country's bloodiest bombings have been against militia members or their families.
Islamist militants with links to al-Qaida have carried out hundreds of bombings in Pakistan since 2007, killing many hundreds of soldiers, police, government officials and civilians.
The Pakistani army has carried out offensives against the militants in their strongholds in tribally administered regions like Khyber, but the insurgents have proven to be a resilient foe. There have been conflicting reports of peace talks between some insurgent factions and the government in recent months.
While the frequency of large-scale attacks outside of the northwest has decreased over the last 18 months, the violence has triggered fears in the West that nuclear-armed Pakistan may be buckling under extremism.
The last major bombing was in September close to the Swat Valley, when a suicide bomber hit a funeral of a tribal elder opposed to the Taliban, killing 31 people.
On Monday, sources said the bodies of 10 Pakistani soldiers and 10 Taliban fighters killed in a clash in Pakistan's largely lawless northwest last month have been exchanged.
The grisly swap came just days after the bodies of 15 Pakistani soldiers, captured on December 23 after dozens of Taliban militants stormed a paramilitary fort in the northwestern Tank district, were discovered.
Their bodies, with gunshot wounds and signs of torture, had been found in the Thal area of the northwestern Hangu district on January 5.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.