PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Pakistani police investigating how a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside the heavily fortified compound and killed more than 100 people said on Wednesday they may have had “inside help” for the attacker and arrested several suspects. .
Monday’s bombing was the deadliest in a decade for Peshawar, a restive northwestern city plagued by Islamist militant violence near the border with Afghanistan.
All but three of those killed were police officers, making it the worst attack on Pakistani security forces in recent history and the deadliest in recent violence targeting police in the border province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“We have found some excellent leads and based on these leads we have made some important arrests,” Peshawar police chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters. “We cannot rule out insider help but as the investigation is still in progress, I am unable to share further details.”
The bomb exploded as hundreds of worshipers gathered for afternoon prayers at the mosque, which was built to house police and their families in a heavily fortified zone.
View 2 more stories
Investigators, including counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, are focusing on how the attackers breached military and police checkpoints leading to the Police Lines district, a self-contained camp in the colonial-era, Peshawar city center for middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families.
The attack has angered the force, prompting unprecedented protests by police personnel across the province.
“How long will this injustice against us last?” A protester wearing a bullet-proof vest told reporters. Another group of policemen in Peshawar chanted: “We want peace.”
Peshawar is on the edge of the Pashtun tribal region, an area mired in violence for the past two decades. The region’s most active militant group, the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has recently stepped up attacks on police as part of its campaign against the government in Islamabad.
The TTP has denied responsibility for the mosque attack, which no other group has ever claimed. Provincial police chief Mozam Jah Ansari told Reuters they suspected a breakaway faction of the TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, was involved. He said the remnants of the bomber were also recovered.
The attack in Peshawar was the deadliest since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church in September 2013 killed scores of worshippers, remaining the worst attack on the country’s Christian minority.
Father of five Irfan Khan was also among those who died on Monday. “I miss my father very much,” Khan’s son Arsalan, 11, told Reuters as the family received condolences at his home. “I saw my father on Friday for the last time, I will never see him again.”
Reporting by Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar and Asif Shahzad and Sheree Sardar in Islamabad; Writing by Miral Fahmy; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.