PESHAWAR: The mastermind of Jaunary’s suicide attack at a mosque in Peshawar’s Police Lines has been traced, the police’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) said on Friday.

At least 84 people were killed when a powerful explosion ripped through the mosque, inside Peshawar’s Red Zone area, on Jan 30. The blast blew away the wall of the prayer hall, causing the roof to cave in which increased the death toll.

In a press conference at Peshawar’s Police Headquarters, the head of the KP Police’s CTD, AIG Shaukat Abbas, said the mastermind and the handler of the suicide bomber have been traced.

“We have also arrested a second bomber who’d have carried out the attack had the first attacker failed to hit the target,” Mr Abbas said.

The CTD chief said the suicide bomber who blew himself up inside the mosque has been identified only by his alias ‘Qari’.

CTD chief says ‘handler’ of suicide attacker also identified

The attacker was an Afghan national from Kunduz while his handler has been identified as Ghaffar aka Salma who also belonged to Afghanistan.

AIG Abbas added that the ‘bomber in the waiting’, identified as Imtiaz, was a resident of Shonkry in Mohmand district, an area right on the border with Afghanistan.

“The attack was carried out by Jamatul Ahrar, an allied organisation of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” AIG Abbas said, adding that the planning was also carried out in Afghanistan.

The official added that after the attack, the handler, Ghaffar, shifted Imtiaz to an undisclosed location. Senior police officials have however refused to comment on whether Imtiaz, the bomber in waiting, was inside the Police Lines at the time of the attack.

The AIG claimed that the attackers were trained in a facility maintained by Qari Abdul Baseer in the Akhunky area of Kunduz.

He said efforts were being made to arrest Ghaffar who masterminded the attack.

AIG Abbas informed that the investigation took time as the police wanted to “connect every dot”.

He said the attackers were traced with the help of geo-fencing and digital forensics.

“If you want to fix [responsibility] and take this person [the attacker] to the gallows, you proceed with care, you connect the dots,” AIG Abbas said about the nearly two-month-long probe.

The attack, one of the deadliest in recent times, was carried out in a compound housing the offices of at least half a dozen units including the frontier reserve police, the special security unit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the counter-terrorism department, the elite force, telecommunication, rapid response force and special combat unit.

The investigation took time as more than 2,000 people were staffed in those units and the compound was visited by two to three hundred visitors daily. The process of profiling each individual alongside reviewing hours of CCTV footage from the lone camera outside the mosque’s front gate and the compound became a time-consuming and painstaking task for the investigation agencies.

The attack was initially claimed by the outlawed TTP but the group later distanced itself indicating the attack to be the handiwork of a local faction of the outlawed group.

In February, the former KP police chief, Moazzam Jah Ansari, said technical evidence and intelligence reports suggested the bombing was carried out by Jamatul Ahrar.

“[The banned] TTP accepted responsibility for the attack, but later withdrew their claim following consultations within the group that attacking a mosque would be criticised,” Mr Ansari had said.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023

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