CBSN

44 Dead as Bombs Strike 2 Pakistani Cities

A Pakistani man removes a gas cylinder from a burning rickshaw after a suicide bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009. A suicide bomber struck outside a court building in the main northwest city of Peshawar, killing people in a fiery reminder of the threat militants pose to the U.S.-allied, nuclear-armed country. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad
Last Updated 2:15 p.m. ET

Two synchronized, remote-controlled bombs ripped through a market popular with women in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Monday, igniting a massive fire and killing at least 34 people, authorities said.

Another attack by a suicide bomber , part of a wave of militants strikes in Pakistan as the army presses an offensive against a Taliban stronghold in the northwest close to the Afghan border.

Lahore's popular "Moon Market" located near its Allama Iqbal neighborhood saw the two bombs go up within minutes of each other, just as late evening shopping was at its peak, CBS News's Farhan Bokhari reports from Pakistan.

Eyewitnesses reported scores of cars and motorcycles being damaged in the attack, while Pakistani TV channels showed smoke rising from the debris of what appeared to have been a block that caught fire, Bokhari reports.

About 100 people were wounded in the attacks in Lahore, which were apparently timed to take place when the Moon Market was as its busiest. The bombs exploded within 30 seconds of each other, leaving dozens of cars and shops ablaze late into the night.

Many of victims were women and children, including a dead 2-year-old, a police officer said.

They attacks came hours after a suicide bomber killed 10 outside a courthouse in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Islamist militants have carried out scores of bloody bombings in Pakistan in recent weeks.

Security officials in Lahore warned that the attack appeared to be an attempt by Taliban militants retaliating against the Pakistan military to areas well outside the northwest frontier province along the Afghan border, Bokhari reports.

The Pakistan military has been engaged in a two-month-long campaign targeting suspected Taliban sanctuaries in the southern Waziristan region near the Afghan border. In the past week, senior military and security officials have claimed to have crushed all the main Taliban centers of congregation in that area.

Last week, two of the three suicide attacks in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar targeted installations of the nation's armed forces, suggesting the military has become the prime target for the Taliban.

"It is obvious the Taliban are seeking to retaliate," one senior Pakistani security official told CBS News Monday night after the attacks took place in Lahore.

Most have been directed at security forces, though several have targeted crowded public spaces such as markets, apparently to cause terror and increase pressure on the government to call a halt to the offensive. More than 400 people have been killed, including more than 100 in a market in Peshawar in October.

The Taliban generally claim responsibility for those killing security officers, but do not admit to carrying out the attacks targeting purely civilian targets. Government officials and security analysts say there is little doubt the militants are behind all the attacks.

Moon Market sells clothes and shoes and is especially popular with women and their children.

Lahore's top government official, Khusro Pervaiz, said there were more than 34 dead and 109 wounded.

"I have a fear that the death toll might rise," Pervaiz said.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the bombs were apparently remote-controlled devices.

"There was a blast. Then there was another," said Mohammad Nauman, who was bleeding from his nostrils. "Nobody knew what was happening. Everybody was running. There was fire everywhere."

The attacks in Lahore also raised the dangerous possibility of Islamic militant groups in the area, notably those with a past dedicated to militant activities against neighboring India for being involved.

A senior western diplomat in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity said about the area surrounding Lahore, "The Punjab province has a long history of Islamic militant groups that have been dedicated against India for being involved in past terrorist hits. It is possible that those people are becoming active again."

Lahore is Pakistan's second-largest city and is not far from the border with India. It has been hit several times by militants over the past year, including an attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team and several strikes against security installations.