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Pakistan: Suicide Bomber Slays 63 at Peshawar Mosque
Mourners offer funeral prayers for bomb blast victims on on March 5, 2022, a day after a suicide attack killed 63 people at a Shiite mosque in Peshawar. (Abdul Majeed/AFP via Getty Images)

Pakistan: Suicide Bomber Slays 63 at Peshawar Mosque

ISIS-K claims responsibility for attack on Shiite minority

[Islamabad] A massive explosion ripped through a Shiite mosque in northwestern Pakistan as worshippers knelt in prayer on Friday, killing 63 people and wounding more than 200 others.

A suicide bomber targeted Friday prayers at the mosque, located in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar, the minority community’s only place of worship in the city’s old town. Sunni radicals, including ISIS and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have long targeted the country’s Shiites.

Fifty-seven of the victims died on Friday. Six more succumbed to their injuries on Saturday.

It was one of the worst attacks in Peshawar since December 2014, when six TTP terrorists stormed the Army Public School and killed more than 150 people, most of them children, in the world’s fourth-deadliest school massacre.

Mohammad Asim, a spokesman for the state-run Lady Reading Hospital, confirmed the rise in casualties to The Media Line.

Peshawar police chief Muhammad Ejaz Khan told The Media Line, “A police checkpoint was established at the main gate and before entering the mosque, the attacker opened fire on the police post, which resulted in the death of one officer, while the other was seriously injured.

“The suicide bomber managed to enter the main hall and blew himself up there,” he added.

Haider Abbas, a paramedic, told The Media Line, “Due to the narrow streets of the area, the rescuers faced several difficulties in transporting the injured to the hospitals; ambulances were parked outside [the area] on the road. However, locals rushed the injured to the hospitals on motorcycles.”

Usman Ahmed, a rescue official, told The Media Line, “A score of children also lost their lives in the horrific blast; distressing scenes were seen in the hospital. Parents were wildly searching for their kids amid dead bodies and the injured.”

Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday.

“The suicide attack was carried out by an Afghan suicide bomber, Jalbib Al Kabuli,” a statement released by ISIS’s Amaq News Agency read, as translated by the Maryland-based SITE Intelligence Group.

“Despite the intense security measures adopted by the Taliban and the Pakistani police, our fighters are constantly targeting Shiites living in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the ISIS statement added.

ISIS-K is the Afghan/South Asia affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh.

Khorasan refers to a historical region under an ancient caliphate that once included parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan. The Islamic State announced its expansion to the Khorasan region in 2015.

ISIS-K was formed by disaffected Taliban members in eastern Afghanistan, joined by other extremists from TTP and al-Qaida.

The US government recognized ISIS-K as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity in 2015.

ISIS-K has carried out suicide attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, mainly targeting the Shiite Muslim minority, whose members the organization considers heretics who should be killed.

ISIS-K also carried out an attack on Kabul Airport on August 26, 2021, when the United States and other Western governments were conducting a large-scale evacuation of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans from the country. At least 185 people, including 13 US service members, were killed, and more than 150 people, including 18 US service members, were wounded.

The US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of ISIS-K leader Sanaullah Ghafari, alias Shahab al-Muhajir. Born in Afghanistan in 1994, Ghafari has been involved in planning complex and suicide attacks.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the suicide attack at the mosque in Peshawar.

“We now have all information regarding the origins of where the terrorists came from & [We] are going after them with full force,” Khan added in a tweet.

Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, the federal minister of the interior, said “the ministry had no prior information about the attack.

“No threat alert was received. We had a meeting a couple of days ago, but no threat was received; we had no information about it,” the minister tweeted.

However, an Islamabad-based senior Intelligence official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity that “there were tips that such assaults were coming.”

“In the recent past, security forces foiled dozen of such attempts by the terrorists, but unfortunately Friday’s blast is one of the big misses out of a lot of successful intelligence-based operations,” he continued.

“This incident should not be seen in isolation from the post-US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan,” the official said.

“The Pakistan security forces and intelligence agencies are fully capable of countering such intrigues,” he vowed. “Pakistan has expanded its counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency measures to anticipate any such action in the future.”

Since 2008, Pakistan’s Shiite community has been the target of an unprecedented escalation in sectarian violence. Hardliner Sunni activists have killed thousands of Shiites across the country.

According to official data, Pakistan’s population is estimated at 216.47 million, of whom approximately 95% are Muslim.

Sunnis represent approximately 75% of the total population and Shiites around 20%.

Allama Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, a prominent Sunni scholar and a special representative to the prime minister on interfaith harmony, told The Media Line, “Targeting innocent people in a place of worship is an inhuman act and the culprits would be given exemplary punishment.

“The fierce attack was a conspiracy to plunge the country into sectarian riots, but all such attempts would be thwarted as the scholars and clerics of all schools of thought are united against terrorism,” Ashrafi said.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Asif Haroon Raja, a Rawalpindi-based leading security and defense analyst, told The Media Line, “The cowardly attack in Peshawar is [one of] the last kicks and dirty tricks of our external enemies, the enemies in the garb of friends, and the detractors within the country are in play.

“The terrorists have no religion, and they resort to such brutal acts for money only,” he claimed. “Hostile agencies are funding the proxies. They have their links inside Pakistan that facilitate the attacks.

“Friday’s suicide attack in Peshawar is the continuation of old tactics to punish Pakistan,” he continued. “While the US is punishing the Afghan Taliban through economic terrorism, multiple tools are being used to intimidate and browbeat Pakistan. These include proxy war, IMF [the International Monetary Fund], FATF [the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering], hybrid war [combining conventional and nonconventional methods], and defamation of the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence [agency],” the general added.

Raja said, “The big master [the United States] is very unhappy with Pakistan since it considers Pakistan responsible for the US defeat and humiliating exit from Afghanistan. The US also holds Pakistan responsible for enabling China to reach closer to become the leading economic power through CPEC.”

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects aim to upgrade Pakistan’s infrastructure and economy through the establishment of modern transportation networks, energy projects, and special economic zones.

Raja noted that since “the Taliban took over [Afghanistan] in August 2021, there has been an upsurge in acts of terror in Baluchistan, Waziristan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (previously known as the North-West Frontier Province) are provinces of Pakistan that adjoin Afghanistan. Waziristan is part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Peshawar is the province’s capital and largest city.

Raja said that the anti-Pakistan elements want to achieve various goals through the Peshawar incident.

The attack was timed to scare away the visiting Australian national cricket team, as was done with the New Zealand team last year, pressure Pakistan to postpone the March 23 Pakistan Day Parade in Islamabad, to which Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) leaders have been invited, trigger sectarianism, spoil Pakistan-Afghan and Pakistan-Iran relations, bolster the spirits of opposition parties that are geared up to advance a motion of no-confidence against the prime minister, and further strain the Pakistani economy, Raja said.

Farzana Shah is a Peshawar-based expert on armed groups’ militancy and editor of The Global Conflict Watch, a defense and strategic affairs magazine.

She told The Media Line, “It is the first major attack in Peshawar, even in the country, that has been claimed by ISIS-K, and [keeping in mind the recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan], all signs pointed toward ISIS-K.”

“Most of the suicide attackers in the past, though, hailed from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Both groups [TTP and ISIS-K], however, have intermittently targeted the Shia community on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” Shah continued.

“The security forces have conducted various successful intelligence-based operations (IBOs) against ISIS-K in the province [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] and arrested a number of its operatives in the last few months,” she said.

“The attack seems to be an attempt to stir sectarian violence in Pakistan but could be an attempt to disrupt recent Pakistan-Russia rapprochement. We may see it as a pressure tactic adopted by certain international players working for their vested geostrategic interests,” Shah said.

The gruesome blast in Peshawar has been widely condemned by global leaders.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called Pakistan’s envoy to the UN, Munir Akram, and expressed his deepest condolences over the terrorist attack.

German Ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck termed it a “heartbreaking act of horrific terror against worshippers.”

Hissein Brahim Taha, the secretary-general of the OIC, called Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and condemned the attack.

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