A suicide bomber attacked a busy market just outside an army base in Pakistan's militancy-plagued northwest Sunday, killing at least 10 people — including four soldiers — and wounding 18, officials said.
The attack in North West Frontier Province was the deadliest in more than two months in Pakistan. It came amid ongoing efforts by the new government to reach peace deals with militants and on the heels of a suspected U.S. missile strike that left several dead in a nearby tribal area.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
The attacker detonated his explosives between a bakery and the gate of the Punjab Regimental Center in the town of Mardan.
Shaukat Khan, a senior police officer, said 10 people were killed and 18 injured. Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army's top spokesman, said four of the dead were soldiers guarding the gate of the base, which appeared to have been the target.
Abbas said the bomber blew himself up when he was stopped by one of the soldiers. He said that the bakery is also run by the regimental center and that the commercial area is routinely guard by army soldiers.
Mussarat Khan, a witness at Mardan hospital, said at least 12 people were taken there. Security forces cordoned off the blast site and were collecting evidence, Abbas said.
Pakistan's northwest is considered a haven for militants with links to the Taliban and al-Qaida, many of whom are determined to drive U.S. forces out of neighboring Afghanistan.
The new government, in power some seven weeks, has sought peace deals with some militant groups, a step away from the more forceful tactics of President Pervez Musharraf, a longtime ally of the United States in the war on terrorism.
One of the militants' demands has been the withdrawal of the army from parts of the northwest, where tens of thousands of troops have been deployed to fight extremists.
Attacks had subsided overall since the new government came to power, though they had not entirely disappeared. Just last month, a car bomb near a police station in Mardan killed three people, including a policeman.
The latest attack appears to be the worst in the country since a pair of suicide bombings in mid-March killed 27 people in Lahore, a normally peaceful city in Pakistan's east.
Wajid Ali Khan, a government official in the North West Frontier Province, condemned the attack, calling it "cowardly."
"We are engaged in efforts for peace and stability in this province, and this seemed to be an act to sabotage our efforts," Khan said. "We will keep on going in our peace efforts; we will continue our talks."
Spokesmen for Taliban militants in Pakistan could not immediately be reached for comment.
Just days ago, an apparent U.S. missile strike on a suspected militant hide-out in Pakistan's Bajur region left about a dozen people dead and drew sharp protests from some Pakistani officials and political parties.
Militants vowed to take revenge on America for the attack — but also said they would continue to support the peace talks.