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A suicide bomber blew himself up in a busy commercial area near the Army's General Headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Monday, killing at least 34 people, including military personnel, in the latest in a series of deadly terrorist attacks that have rocked Pakistan.
The motorcycle-borne bomber detonated his explosives outside a state-run bank, causing considerable damage to the facade of Shalimar Hotel on Mall Road, less than a kilometre from the army's fortified General Headquarters that was besieged by a group of terrorists nearly a month ago.
Rescue service officials put the death toll at 34 while police said 45 injured were taken to nearby hospitals.
Many people, including pensioners, who had come to the National Bank to collect their salaries and pensions were among those killed and injured in the blast that occurred at 10.40 am.
Police officials said the suicide bomber blew himself up outside the bank when police teams tried to intercept him.
Witnesses said at least two military police personnel, five women and several private security guards and passers-by were killed.
Several army officers' messes, sensitive military installations and other hotels are located near Shalimar Hotel. Military police and paramilitary personnel cordoned off the area and diverted traffic from the road in front of the hotel.
Ambulances rushed bodies and the injured to hospitals, where an emergency was declared.
Several cars and motorcycles parked outside the hotel and the bank were damaged by the explosion, which also shattered the windows of nearby buildings.
Zahid Dara, who witnessed the attack, told reporters: "I fell off my motorcycle when the blast occurred. People began running helter-skelter in panic... I saw the blast had occurred outside the hotel, near which there are several banks, travel agencies and other offices".
Dara said he had seen private security guards and army personnel among the dead and injured.