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Pakistan says mosque bomber may have had “internal assistance“


2023-02-01T17:13:45Z

Distraught relatives thronged hospitals in Pakistan’s Peshawar on Tuesday (January 31) to look for their kin a day after a suicide bombing ripped through a crowded mosque in a heavily fortified area of the city, killing more than 90 people, mostly policemen. Edward Baran reports.

Pakistani police investigating how a suicide bomber reached a mosque inside a highly fortified compound and killed over 100 people said on Wednesday the attacker may have had “internal assistance”, and that several suspects had been arrested.

Monday’s bombing was the deadliest in a decade to hit Peshawar, a restive northwestern city prone to Islamist militant violence near the Afghan border.

All but three of those killed were police officers, making it the worst attack on Pakistani security forces in recent history, and the most lethal in a recent surge of violence that has targeted police in the frontier Khyber Pashtunkhwa province.

“We have found some excellent clues, and based on these clues we have made some major arrests,” Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters. “We can’t rule out internal assistance but since the investigation is still in progress, I will not be able to share more details.”

The bomber struck as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose-built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified zone.

Investigators, including counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, are focusing on how the attacker managed to breach the military and police checkpoints leading into the Police Lines district, a colonial-era, self-contained encampment in Peshawar city centre that houses middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families.

The attack has rattled the force, prompting unprecedented protests by police personnel across the province.

“How long will this injustice against us last?” one of the protesters, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, told reporters. Another group of policemen in Peshawar chanted: “We want peace.”

Peshawar sits on the edge of the Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades. The most active militant group in the area, the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has recently increased attacks on the police as part of its campaign against the government in Islamabad.

The TTP has denied responsibility for the mosque attack, which no group has claimed so far. Provincial Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters he suspected a breakaway faction of the TTP called Jamat-ul-Ahrar was involved. Remains of the bomber had also been recovered, he added.

The attack was the deadliest in Peshawar since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church killed scores of worshippers in September 2013, in what remains the worst strike on the country’s Christian minority.

Among Monday’s dead was Irfan Khan, a father of five. “I miss my father very much,” Khan’s son Arsalan, 11, told Reuters as the family accepted condolences at their home. “I saw my father for the last time on Friday. I will never see him again.”

Related Galleries:

Daughter of Irfan Khan, a police officer, who along with other police officers was killed, weeps during a protest by police officers to condemn the suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan February 1, 2023. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Police officers chant slogans as they protest to condemn the suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan February 1, 2023. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Rescue workers clear the rubble as they search for victims, after a suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan January 31, 2023. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

People and rescue workers gather to look for survivors under a collapsed roof, after a suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of Pakistan Asim Munir and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visit an injured, after a suicide blast in a mosque, at a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan January 30, 2023. Prime Minister’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

People and rescue workers gather amid the damages, after a suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

A man, who was injured after a suicide blast in a mosque, receives medical aid at a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan January 31, 2023. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

A woman reacts as she searches for her relatives, after a suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz