Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban claimed one of its members shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counter-terrorism wing of the country’s military-based spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. Security officials said on Monday the gunman was traced and killed in a shootout in the north-west near the Afghan border.
The TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban. The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan in the past 15 years, seeking stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody and a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province it has long used as its base.
Monday’s assault on a Sunni mosque inside the police facility was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.
More than 300 worshippers were praying in the mosque, with more approaching, when the bomber set off his explosives vest. Many were injured when the roof came down, according to Zafar Khan, a police officer, and rescuers had to remove mounds of debris to reach worshippers still trapped under the rubble.
Meena Gul, who was in the mosque when the bomb went off, said he didn’t know how he survived unhurt. The 38-year-old police officer said he heard cries and screams after the blast.
Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence, and the city has been the scene of frequent militant attacks.
The Afghan Taliban seized power in neighbouring Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops pulled out of the country after 20 years of war.
The Pakistani government’s truce with the TTP ended as the country was still contending with unprecedented flooding that killed 1739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes, and at one point submerged as much as a third of the country.
Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was “saddened to learn that numerous people lost their lives and many others were injured by an explosion at a mosque in Peshawar” and condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Condemnations also came from the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad, as well as the US Embassy, adding that “The United States stands with Pakistan in condemning all forms of terrorism.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the bombing “particularly abhorrent” for targeting a place of worship, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Cash-strapped Pakistan faces a severe economic crisis and is seeking a crucial instalment of $US1.1 billion from the International Monetary Fund – part of its $US6 billion bailout package – to avoid default. Talks with the IMF on reviving the bailout have stalled in the past months.
Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan called the bombing a “terrorist suicide attack”. He tweeted: “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”.
Sharif’s government came to power in April after Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament. Khan has since campaigned for early elections, claiming his ouster was illegal and part of a plot backed by the United States. Washington and Sharif dismiss Khan’s claims.
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