Pakistani Taliban Splinter Group Claims Responsibility for Mosque Bombing as Death Toll Hits 100
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar says it carried out the attack on a mosque in a police compound in Peshawar in revenge for the killing of an ex-Pakistani Taliban commander
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) armed Islamist movement has denied that it was involved in a suicide bomb attack at a mosque inside a police compound in Peshawar during afternoon prayers on Monday, saying that it does not target mosques or other religious sites. At the same time, a TTP splinter group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, announced that it carried out the attack.
The death toll from the attack rose to 100 on Tuesday as the rescue teams called off the search operation, Muhammed Asim, spokesperson for the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, confirmed to The Media Line.
At least 225 people are also reported injured in the attack, which blew the roof off of the mosque which then caved in and destroyed most of the building. The majority of the dead were police officers and police personnel. The mosque’s prayer leader, Sheik Noor Ul Amin, was among the dead.
Bilal Faizi, spokesperson for Rescue 1122, the country’s emergency services, told The Media Line that dead bodies and injured currently are being recovered, “and we are not expecting anyone alive to be found in the debris.”
The attack was one of the deadliest terror incidents in the south Asian country, neighboring war-torn Afghanistan. Following the Peshawar blast, security was put on high alert in the federal capital of Islamabad and the adjacent garrison city of Rawalpindi.
TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani denied his group, which is separate from the Afghanistan Taliban but remains allied, was involved in the mosque attack. He said that targeting mosques, schools, and funerals was strictly prohibited by his movement’s constitution.
Meanwhile, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the suicide blast in Peshawar.
Omar Mukaram Khorasani, head of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar who also serves as a member of the TTP Central Advisory Council, claimed in a tweet that “Peshawar Police Line Mosque is the 4th suicide attack in a series of operations launched as a revenge killing of ex-TTP Commander Omar Khalid Khorasani,” he also vowed to “speed up a series of such actions.” His Twitter account was suspended soon after.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar may have made the announcement at the behest of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, the 4th emir of the Pakistani Taliban. While the motives of the attack are unclear, it appears to be part of an ongoing conflict between different armed militias in the region.
Experts say that the TTP statement denying involvement in the bombing is untrue and just a face-saving measure and that many TTP members have already accepted that the group was responsible.
The Pakistani Taliban last November ended a temporary ceasefire with the Pakistani government and declared that it would resume attacks. TTP has claimed responsibility for other recent terror attacks throughout the country. It has waged a 15-year uprising against the Pakistani government over the government’s operations against al-Qaida and armed insurgents from Afghanistan.
A mass funeral was held at the Peshawar Police compound for 27 of the police officers who lost their lives in the suicide blast. Their coffins were wrapped in the national flag.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government announced a day of mourning on Tuesday.
Azhar Mehmood, a Peshawar-based senior police officer, told The Media Line that the “police of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have been engaged in large-scale operations against terrorists along with other security agencies for the past several years and hundreds of policemen, including officers, have lost their lives. One of the objectives of this incident aimed at police headquarters is to demoralize the force, but such incidents are not at all new for our force. We are more determined than ever to fight terrorists and bring them to justice,” Azhar added.
An official from the Home Department confirmed to The Media Line that the report sent by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police to the Ministry of Interior says that the incident was apparently a suicide attack.
The report further states that “the identification of the suicide bomber has not been possible yet, but the work is in progress.” Due to the sensitivity of the matter, the official declined to disclose further details.
The government could take steps such as increased security measures and targeted sanctions against the perpetrators. No ethnic group was targeted in the attack; rather, it appears that the police were the targets.
Following the attack in Peshawar, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Asim Munir, presided over a corps commanders conference at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.
The commanders were briefed in detail about the prevailing and emerging terrorist insurgent threats, and ongoing operations being undertaken by the Pakistani military to break the nexus between terrorists and their foreign support mechanism.
Munir directed all commanders to continue to focus on anti-terrorism operations in coordination with intelligence and law enforcement agencies “with renewed resolve until the time that we achieve sustainable peace.”
Meanwhile, government officials have called the attack inside a mosque in a walled compound, inside a high-security zone with other government buildings, a “security lapse” and “negligence.” An investigation has already begun to determine how the bomber was able to enter the compound and the mosque
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a statement strongly condemned the blast and said that “the attackers behind the incident have nothing to do with Islam.”
“Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan,” he said.
In March 2022, a suicide bomber targeted a Shiite mosque in Peshawar, killing 63 people and injuring more than 200. The attack was one of the worst the city had seen 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.