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Cinema attack kills 13 as Pakistan holds Taliban talks

People comfort to the father, center, of Faisal Saeed, a local employee of the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, during his funeral in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A triple grenade attack on a cinema showing pornography in northwest Pakistan killed 13 people on Tuesday as government and Taliban negotiators met for a second round of peace talks.

It was the second such attack within two weeks on a cinema in the city of Peshawar, which has been on the front line of Pakistan's homegrown Islamist insurgency.

The attack came as negotiators representing the Pakistani government and Taliban militants met for a second time as part of efforts to end the bloody seven-year rebellion.

After the meeting in Islamabad the chief negotiator for the Taliban, hardline cleric Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, said the two sides had proposed a ceasefire "to make the atmosphere for talks more conducive".

Peshawar city police chief Mohammad Ijaz Ahmed said three grenades were used in the attack and up to 80 people were in the Shama cinema at the time.

The cinema is known for showing explicit erotic movies as well as regular films.

A statement from Peshawar's Lady Reading Hospital said 13 people were killed in the attack and scores were wounded.

Scraps of human flesh, blood-soaked shoes, caps and condoms littered the floor of the hall after the blasts, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Akbar Khan, 62, whose left arm and left thigh were injured, told AFP from his hospital bed that he was watching a pornographic movie when a deafening blast rocked the auditorium.

"It seemed like a hot iron rod pierced through my left arm and leg as I was hit by ball bearings," he said.

"I ran towards the gate, from where I was taken to hospital."

Peshawar, the capital of restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has seen numerous bomb and gun attacks in recent years.

The Shama cinema has been in business for more than 30 years. It has been attacked twice before by Islamist activists, but Tuesday was the first bombing.

Taliban denial Tuesday's attack bears striking similarities to one on the city's Picture House cinema on February 2, when two grenades were thrown into the auditorium. Four people were killed and 31 injured.

The Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella group denied responsibility for Tuesday's attack -- as they denied the earlier one -- but it will nevertheless fuel scepticism about the talks' chances of success.

There are fears that the movement, a fractious coalition of militant groups, could be splintering over the talks initiative, undermining the process. 

As news of Tuesday's cinema attack was emerging, the heads of the government and TTP negotiators held a press conference giving a positive account of their meeting.

Lead government negotiator Irfan Siddiqui said they hoped to make "positive movement" in the coming days.

Surge in violence Haq, whose fellow negotiators met TTP leaders over the weekend, said the Taliban had "shown a great deal of prudence and maturity".

"Both sides have proposed a ceasefire to make the atmosphere for talks more conducive," he said.

On Monday a TTP commander set tough terms for making progress in the talks, insisting on the release of all imprisoned fighters and the withdrawal of troops from tribal areas.

There has been widespread scepticism about the chances of success, particularly since regional deals have quickly broken down in the past.

Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in the TTP insurgency since it began in 2007, according to an AFP tally.

The start of 2014 has seen a surge in militant violence with more than 130 people killed.

An air force bombardment of TTP hideouts in North Waziristan led many to believe a major military offensive was imminent until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the peace talks.

Stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan is seen as important to neighbouring Afghanistan, where US-led NATO troops are pulling out after more than a decade of war.

Washington has said it is watching the talks with the Taliban closely. It has long been pushing Pakistan to take action against militants using Pakistan's tribal areas as a base to attack NATO forces across the border.

 

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Summary

A triple grenade attack on a cinema showing pornography in northwest Pakistan killed 13 people on Tuesday as government and Taliban negotiators met for a second round of peace talks.

It was the second such attack within two weeks on a cinema in the city of Peshawar, which has been on the front line of Pakistan's homegrown Islamist insurgency.

The attack came as negotiators representing the Pakistani government and Taliban militants met for a second time as part of efforts to end the bloody seven-year rebellion.

Peshawar city police chief Mohammad Ijaz Ahmed said three grenades were used in the attack and up to 80 people were in the Shama cinema at the time.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella group denied responsibility for Tuesday's attack -- as they denied the earlier one -- but it will nevertheless fuel scepticism about the talks' chances of success.


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