PESHAWAR, Pakistan — After frantically combing through the debris of the devastated mosque throughout the night and Tuesday morning, police called off the search for survivors of a terrorist suicide bombing in the highly guarded site where several hundred police and army men had gathered for afternoon prayers.
The shockingly successful attack on what should have been one of the more secure parts of Peshawar has raised serious questions about Pakistan’s ability to confront its long-standing militant threat as it remains mired in an economic crisis and a political standoff.“This needs to be thoroughly investigated as to how the bomber succeeded in reaching the target by crossing all the checkpoints,” said Syed Masood Shah, a senior police official and minister in the current caretaker government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. “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 bombing was claimed by a faction of the Pakistani Taliban militia, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, which said the attack was to avenge the death of its former leader. However, a TTP spokesman later denied the claim, saying that such an attack — on a place of worship packed with men at prayer — was un-Islamic. The contradiction suggested splits within the group since the death of its leader, Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari said.
A police officer, who gave only the name Tajir, was guarding the Capital City Police Office compound where the blast took place and said entry was still barred Tuesday, but he worried about how the bomber had entered the area.
“We lost many of our colleagues, but we will continue to fight back,” he said. “It is very difficult to search every person here as usually there is hustle and bustle on the working days. Government officials and visitors are passing through this gate.”As families began burying their dead in cemeteries across this ancient city and Pakistani officials scrambled to fashion a coherent response, leaders and commentators of all stripes, from religious party chiefs to secular liberals, joined in universal condemnation of an attack that harked back to a frightening era of constant terrorist threats.