Peshawar, Pakistan, February 1. (Reuters) – Pakistani police investigating how a deadly bomber struck a mosque in a heavily fortified compound and killed more than 100 people said on Wednesday the attacker may have had “inside help” and that several suspects had been arrested. .
Monday’s bombing was the deadliest in a decade to hit Peshawar, a troubled northwestern city on the border with Afghanistan that has been plagued by Islamist militant violence.
All but three of the dead were police officers, making it the biggest attack on Pakistani security forces in recent memory and the deadliest in a recent spate of violence targeting police in the border province of Khyber Pashtunkhwa.
“We have found excellent clues and based on these clues we have made several major arrests,” Peshawar police chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters. “We cannot rule out internal help, but as the investigation is still ongoing, I cannot share any further details.”
The blast came as hundreds of worshipers gathered for midday prayers at the mosque, which was purpose-built for police and their families living in the heavily fortified area.
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Investigators, including counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, point to how the gunman managed to infiltrate military and police posts leading to the Police Lines area, a colonial-era closed camp in the middle and lower city of Peshawar. – for police officers and their families.
The attack shocked the force and sparked 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 is on the edge of Pashtun tribal lands, a region that has been wracked by violence for the past two decades. The most active militant group in the area, the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has recently increased attacks on police in its campaign against the government in Islamabad.
The TTP has denied responsibility for the mosque attack, which has so far not been claimed by any group. Provincial police chief Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters he suspected a breakaway TTP faction called Jamat-ul-Ahrar was involved. He added that the remains of the bomber had also been found.
The attack was the deadliest in Peshawar since 2013. in September, two suicide attacks at All Saints’ Church killed many worshipers. It remains the biggest blow to the country’s Christian minority.
Father-of-five Irfan Khan was among Monday’s dead. “I miss my father very much,” Khan’s 11-year-old son Arsalan told Reuters as the family received condolences at their home. “I last saw my father on Friday. I will never see him again.”
Reports by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Asif Shahzad and Sheree Sardar in Islamabad; by Miral Fahmy; edited by Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich
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