AFP - A huge suicide truck bomb ripped through a luxury hotel Tuesday killing 11 people and wounding 52 in Pakistan's Peshawar city, capital of a northwest province plagued by Taliban violence.
Two foreigners were among the dead, provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told AFP, but would not reveal the nationalities.
Attackers in a pick-up truck entered the compound of the five-star Pearl Continental hotel, spraying security guards with bullets before ramming the vehicle into the building and detonating, with foreigners among those injured.
It is the seventh deadly bombing to hit the troubled city in a month, as fears grow that Taliban militants are exacting revenge for a punishing six-week military offensive against them in three northwest districts.
"It was a suicide attack," city police chief Sefwat Ghayur told AFP.
"Occupants of a double-cabin pick-up truck forced their way in, firing at the security guards. The attackers struck their vehicle into the hotel building, and it exploded on impact," he added.
Chaos enveloped the hotel popular with dignitaries, officials and foreign visitors, with smoke and fire billowing around the building in the high-security Khyber Road area of Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province.
"Eleven people have been killed," provincial police chief Malik Naveed told AFP. "The toll is likely to rise."
Hospital officials said foreign nationals were also among the wounded.
"52 injured people were brought to hospital, six of them foreigners," doctor Sahib Gul told AFP at Peshawar's main Lady Reading Hospital. "Seven of the injured are in a serious condition."
Rows of balconies appeared to have been ripped off the face of the hotel, where rescue workers struggled to help those trapped inside. A clutch of United Nations vehicles were among dozens of charred cars parked outside.
The injured and confused stumbled among twisted metal, with rubble strewn among the once-manicured laws of the hotel, just opposite the historic Bala Hisar Fort and Peshawar's golf course.
"I was sitting in the eastern side of the hotel building and suddenly there was a huge blast which tumbled my chair and I fell on the ground. As I rose from the ground I saw flames and smoke," hotel employee Ghulam Ahmed told AFP.
The blast was so huge it shattered the windows of a provincial assembly and Peshawar High Court located near by, an AFP correspondent on the scene said, and a deep crater was visible outside the four-story hotel.
"More than 500 kilograms of explosive material was used in the blast," senior police official Shafqat Malik told AFP.
Tuesday's attack echoes a suicide truck bomb attack on the luxury Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008 that killed 60 people.
Pakistan has been hit by a string of devastating attacks in recent weeks, with markets and security targets hit in Peshawar and police buildings targeted in Islamabad and the cultural capital Lahore.
On Friday, a suicide bomb ripped through a mosque packed with worshippers, also in the northwest of the country, killing 38 people and wounding dozens more in the deadliest such attack in more than two months.
The Taliban in Pakistan have warned of more "massive attacks" in retaliation for the military operations against them in Swat, Lower Dir and Buner.
The current US-backed campaign centred on Swat was launched when Taliban fighters advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad, flouting a deal to put three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.
There were signs Tuesday that the offensive was expanding outside the Swat valley, with residents and local officials reporting shelling near a Pakistan tribal area where the US alleges Al-Qaeda militants are holed up.
Residents and officials in towns in Bannu district, next to the tribal areas of Waziristan, told AFP the military had begun shelling in their region and said "hundreds" of troops had arrived in some towns -- claims denied by the military.
Pakistan claims to have killed more than 1,350 militants since the assault began on April 26, although the figures are impossible to verify.
Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in Taliban-linked attacks across Pakistan since July 2007.