RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -- A bomb blast in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi has killed at least 35 people, officials said, the latest in a wave of attacks since the military launched an offensive against militants in the northwest.
The blast came as the Pakistan government announced rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and his top aides.
With the army involved in the offensive against Hakimullah and his followers in their South Waziristan strongholds, the militants have retaliated by stepping up a bombing campaign against urban targets across the country.
The attack in Rawalpindi, a large sprawling city that twins the smaller, administrative capital, Islamabad, took place in an area that is home to the army headquarters as well as some hotels.
"It was a huge blast. Smoke is rising from the scene," Nasir Naqvi, who runs a travel agency near the site of blast, told Reuters.
TV stations showed ambulances and police vehicles racing through the streets and officials said they expected the casualty figures to rise.
Wanted, Dead Or Alive
The announcement of the bounty on Hakimullah's head was made through newspaper advertisements as security forces zeroed in on his Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) strongholds in South Waziristan.
"These people are definitely killers of humanity and deserve exemplary punishment," read the front-page advertisement, with photographs of Hakimullah and seven senior lieutenants in "The News." "Help the government of Pakistan so that these people meet their nemesis."
A reward of over $600,000 was announced for Hakimullah, his top aide Wali-ur-Rehman, and his cousin, Qari Hussain Mehsud, who is known as the mentor of suicide bombers.
The trio spoke last month to a group of journalists in Sararogha, a major Taliban base in South Waziristan, but have not been sighted since.
Security forces have captured Kotkai, the birthplace of Hakimullah and hometown of Hussain, in the Waziristan offensive, and on November 1 the military said it was on the outskirts of Sararogha and Makeen, also strongholds of Hakimullah.
In the deadliest militant attack in more than two years, over 100 people were killed and scores more wounded on October 28 when a car bomb detonated in a crowded market in the northwest frontier city of Peshawar.