Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP):
A suicide blast at a mosque inside a police headquarters in Pakistan that killed more than 90 people was a targeted revenge attack, a police chief has said.
Between 300 and 400 policemen had gathered for afternoon prayers at the compound’s mosque on Monday in the provincial capital Peshawar when an entire wall and most of the roof were blown out, showering rubble on officers.
“We are on the frontline taking action against militants and that is why we were targeted,” city police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan told AFP.
“The purpose was to demoralise us as a force.”
Low-level militancy, often targeting security checkpoints, has been steadily rising in the areas near Peshawar that border Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021.
The assaults are claimed mostly by the Pakistani Taliban, as well as the local chapter of the Islamic State, but mass casualty attacks remain rare.
The head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province police force, Moazzam Jah Ansari, told reporters that a suicide bomber had entered the mosque as a guest, carrying 10-12 kilograms (about 22-26 pounds) of “explosive material in bits and pieces”.
He added that a militant group that was on-and-off affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban could be behind the attack.
Authorities are investigating how a major security breach could happen in one of the most tightly controlled areas of the city, housing intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus, and next door to the regional secretariat.
In a statement, the Pakistani Taliban — separate from the Afghan Taliban but with a similar Islamist ideology — denied it was responsible for the latest blast.
Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, it carried out a years-long wave of horrific violence after emerging in 2007 but recently has attempted to rebrand itself as a less brutal outfit, claiming not to target places of worship.
But a security official in Peshawar, who asked not to be named, said Tuesday that authorities were considering all possibilities including the involvement of a TTP splinter faction, the Islamic State or a coordinated attack by several groups.
“Often in the past militant groups, including the TTP, that carry out attacks in mosques do not claim them” because a mosque is considered a sacred place, the official told AFP.