Deadly Mosque Blast Kills at Least 100 in Pakistan

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed and then revoked responsibility for the attack. The attack happened at a mosque inside police headquarters.

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed and then revoked responsibility for the attack. The attack happened at a mosque inside police headquarters.

According to government officials, at least 100 worshippers were killed, on Monday, during afternoon prayers in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The suicide attack injured hundreds after a bomb went off at a Shiite mosque inside the police headquarters in northwest Pakistan. Authorities claim the attack targeted police officers, as most died in the explosion.

This Tuesday, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for this attack (TTP) on Twitter. However, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani refuted the claim hours later. 

According to security officials, the suicide bomber was in the front row during midday prayers when he blew himself up among worshippers.

At the time of the attack, Peshawar’s mosque was packed with up to 400 worshipers, said Police Chief Ijaz Khan. He said TTP’s policy does not consist of targetting mosques, seminaries and religious places.

Pakistan’s President has condemned the attack on Twitter, saying,

I strongly condemn the heinous & cowardly blast that has taken place in Peshawar mosque. The perpetrators will be found and punished. Condolences to families who have lost an innocent member & prayers for injured. Terrorism must be buried forever”.

Former President Imran Khan also condemned the suicide bombing online. Khan tweeted,

Strongly condemn the terrorist suicide attack in police lines mosque Peshawar during prayers. My prayers & condolences go to victims’ families. It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”

According to local authorities, the suicide bombing was a revenge attack against the police force. Indeed, the police are on the frontline fighting a resurgence in militancy since the Afghan Taliban came to power across the border.

A senior police official and minister from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said, “This needs to be thoroughly investigated as to how the bomber succeeded in reaching the target by crossing all the checkpoints.” Syed Masood Shah added, “This is not possible without some ‘support.’ The bomber seems to be well aware of the area, and he might have visited the spot before he executed his plan.”

The attack happened during a key week for Pakistan’s diplomacy. On the day of the suicide bombing, the President of the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was due to visit Islamabad. However, the trip was cancelled due to bad weather.

The day following the attack, an International Monetary Fund delegation visited Pakistan to unlock a bailout loan to prevent the country from defaulting.

On the same day, rescue teams ended their search operation meant to pry survivors and corpses out of the wreck of the mosque.

Wajahat Ali, a 23-year-old police constable whose feet were broken, told AFP, “I remained trapped under the rubble with a dead body over me for seven hours. I had lost all hope of survival.”

Who are the TTP?

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was initially set up in 2007 by Pakistan’s militants after Pakistan sided with the United States and NATO as part of the “War on Terror”. The TTP is known for waging a series of insurgencies for 15 years in Pakistan, which strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Islamabad is accusing Afghanistan of fueling attacks by giving shelter to the TTP fighters. The group that backs the Afghan Taliban aims to enforce its own interpretation of Shariah law, deemed extremist.

Since then, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province bordering Afghanistan, has been used as a military base in which TTP members are trained.

Last November, a ceasefire between the TTP and the Pakistani government ended, leading to an increasing series of attacks on Pakistan’s soldiers and police.

Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the TTP felt more freedom to set up attacks. As the US troops left Afghanistan, the Taliban released TTP members previously detained by former Afghan officials in Kabul.

Although they are on different agendas, the Pakistani Taliban expressed their support for the Afghan Taliban, according to a senior defence analyst and managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.

Indeed, while the TTP aims to target Pakistani forces, the Afghan Taliban’s agenda is to eliminate foreign troops in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan’s counterterrorism may lead to growing violence

For the past two decades, Pakistan has been stroke by several militant attacks committed by the Pakistani Taliban group (TTP). They usually carry out bombings or shootings in the northwestern of the country.

The TTP was blamed for bombing the Marriott Hotel in 2008, attacking army headquarters, and assaulting military bases in 2009.

In 2014, the Pakistan Taliban attacked the Army Public School (APS) in the northwestern city of Peshawar, leading to the death of 150 people, including 131 students.

Security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana based in Islamabad, said, “The mistakes made by the state, to give a way for the TTP to come back to Pakistan, should not happen again. There should be no policy to talk to them and provide them with an opportunity to regroup and get strengthened. We need a firm resolve against terrorism.”

Experts also believe Pakistan needs to find new ways to deal with the TTP domestically.

Umai Jamal, The Diplomat Correspondent, said, “Amid the many crises Pakistan faces, the current civil-military leadership could sit down with the judiciary and other stakeholders to prioritize problems that require immediate attention and determine which ones can wait.”

He also added, “For instance, some government officials believe that the announced elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province should not be a priority at the moment. They argue that the political sparring that prompted the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to dissolve the provincial assemblies to force early elections has added confusion to the whole situation.”

Besides the several challenges Pakistan currently faces, the country will have to find a way “to convince the Afghan Taliban that the TTP’s attacks and violent campaign are not in either country’s interest and that the group’s disarming can pave the way for further deepening of bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” according to Umair Jamal.

Cover image credit: Abid Hussain/Al Jazeera