Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari said on Thursday that the police was “closing in” on the terror network behind the suicide attack on a mosque in the Peshawar Police Lines area, revealing that the bomber “was clad in a police uniform”.
On Jan 30, a powerful explosion ripped through a mosque in Peshawar’s Red Zone area where between 300 and 400 people — mostly police officers — had gathered for prayers. The suicide blast blew away the wall of the prayer hall and an inner roof and claimed 101 lives.
The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. It later distanced itself from it but sources earlier indicated that it might have been the handiwork of some local faction of the outlawed group.
Talking about the status of the investigation in an impassioned presser today in which he referred to police personnel as his children, Ansari said that the police had found ball bearings from the blast site. “We bound ball bearings used in a suicide jacket from underneath the rubble [of the mosque] yesterday.
What we know so far
- Suicide bomber wore police uniform and entered Police Lines on motorcycle
- Police guards didn’t check him because they thought he was ‘one of their own’
- 12-16kgs of TNT was used in the blast
- Combination of explosive and pillarless building contributed to high toll
- Body count could be revised as there is possibility of duplication in lists
- FO spokesperson says Pakistan expects cooperation from Afghan interim government in blast probe
- China says willing to deepen counter-terror cooperation with Pakistan
“This was a suicide bomber and we have traced him […] we have obtained the CCTV footage of his movement from Khyber Road to the Police Lines […] then how he parked his motorcycle on a side […] he was in a police uniform and was wearing a mask and a helmet,” the officer revealed.
He also confirmed that the severed head that the police found from the blast site was of the attacker.
Ansari said that policemen at the entrance of the Police Lines failed to “check the attacker because they thought he was their own”.
“At 12:37pm, he (the attacker) entered the main gate on a motorcycle, came inside, talked to a constable and asked him where the mosque was. This means that the attacker was not aware of the area […] he was given a target and there is an entire network behind him … he was not a lone wolf,” Ansari said.
He went on to say that the police have traced the attacker’s motorcycle as well. “Investigation is a process that will require time, we are doing it diligently but it will require some patience.”
At one point during the press conference, Ansari revealed that 10-12kg of TNT, a high explosive, was used in the blast. The combination of the explosive and the ageing building contributed to high death toll.
“In trinitrotoluene blasts, the shockwaves have no space to go anywhere,” he said, adding that this was the reason for the large number of casualties.
“The 50-year-old mosque at the Peshawar Police Lines did not have pillars… so when the bomb exploded, the walls and roof caved in. My children (the people inside the mosque) were trapped under the rubble for hours.”
He added that the police could have cleaned up the debris within two hours with heavy machinery but they didn’t do so. “This is why there are people who are still breathing in the hospital today.”
The IG also said that the total death toll of martyrs was being reviewed by the police because of “duplicated” lists. “We will give you the exact number of martyrs after eliminating all duplication and it will be done in a scientific way.”
‘Will avenge each and every death’
At the onset of his presser, the police chief asserted that there would be a reckoning for each and every martyr.
“Both I and my police team are in immense grief right now… people believe that we wear uniforms, but we are also humans who have children and families … we are all in grief,” he said.
The official said that this was a time of distress for the police and the force needed the nation to provide them with a healing touch.
Ansari stated that the police had raised voices against the attack to “take revenge for each and every martyr”, adding that the sacrifices of the policemen would not go in vain.
“We fight for you and we will fight for ourselves,” he added.
The police chief also said that “conspiracy theories” were being made to “incite my children (policemen), lead them astray and bring them to the streets”.
Ansari was referring to the protest staged by policemen across KP yesterday, in a first-of-its-kind move, who chanted slogans against “unidentified people”.
According to a Dawn report, policemen in Peshawar, Swabi, Malakand and other areas of the province took to the streets on Wednesday and chanted slogans for peace. They demanded an independent investigation into the blast in the mosque at the police lines in Peshawar.
The protesting policemen said that their protest was against the “system” and they were compelled to take to the streets owing to the deteriorating law and order situation in the province and seek justice for the victims of terrorist attacks.
Talking about the protest in his media talk today, the KP IG said: “We were still burying our dead when another storm brewed. My children were led astray and they started demanding protection.”
Ansari said that if the officers, who had been trained to fight back, started talking about protection then “who would protect the country”.
“This was the doing of a few misled people, who had their own agenda and had to create an issue and make headlines on the media,” he added.
“I don’t want to take any names, but please stop hurting us, do not hit us, do not present conspiracy theories, let us investigate and let us decide and we will present everything, whatever happened.”
The IG also said that he had talked to “my children” and told them that their duty was to find the terrorists and not protest. “There are losses in every battle, both on our side and theirs.”
He recalled that when he talked to his police force today, he took an oath of fighting against terrorism till his last breath and each and every officer followed him.
“They all stood up when I asked who is ready to fight,” Ansari said, asserting that there was no unrest in the police force.
‘Investigating Jamaat-ul-Ahrar angle’
In response to a question, Ansari said that technical evidence and information collected by sensitive institutions suggested that the blast was the work of TTP’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction.
“The TTP claimed responsibility for the blast for which the reasons are clear. But then they disowned it. It seems that they consulted among the group and realised that they will be criticised for attacking a mosque,” he said.
But, the IG continued, “we can clearly say through all the evidence that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, TTP and a hostile intelligence agency working against the national security of Pakistan is behind it”.
“We know the people responsible for it, we know the handlers and the operators as well,” he said.
Pakistan expects cooperation from Afghan interim government: FO
Separately, in a weekly press briefing on Thursday, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch expressed grief over the loss of innocent lives in the Peshawar suicide blast.
She said that the government had begun investigations into the Peshawar suicide attack.
In response to a question, she said that Pakistan expected cooperation from the Afghan interim government in the probe. “Terrorism is a common threat to Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
“We hope that the interim Afghan government will fulfill its promises to the international community,” Zahrah said and hoped that no country will allow its soil to be used for terrorism in Pakistan.
China willing to deepen counter-terror cooperation with Pakistan
Meanwhile, in separate phone calls with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif today, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang said China was willing to deepen counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan.
They condemned the Peshawar Police Lines mosque bombing and extended condolences to the bereaved families over the loss of their loved ones.
China resolutely opposes all forms of terrorism and is willing to deepen counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan to jointly maintain peace and security in the region and globe, the Chinese president and the premier said.
With additional input from APP and Naveed Siddiqui