PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Police investigating a suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people at a Pakistani mosque said on Tuesday that several people had been arrested and could not rule out the possibility that the bomber had inside help to evade security checks.
The bombing was the deadliest in a decade to hit Peshawar, a restive northwestern city near the Afghan border, and all but three of the dead were policemen, making it the deadliest attack on Pakistani security forces in recent history.
The attack happened on Monday as hundreds of worshipers gathered for midday prayers at a mosque that was specially built for police and their families living in a heavily fortified area.
“We have found some excellent leads and based on those leads we have made some major arrests,” Peshawar police chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters.
“We cannot rule out domestic help, but as the investigation is still ongoing, I will not be able to share any further details.”
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Investigators, who include counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, are focusing on how the attacker was able to break through army and police checkpoints leading to the Police Lines neighborhood, a self-contained colonial-era camp in the city center , which is home to middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families.
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said the bomber was in the front row of the prayer hall when he struck. The attacker’s remains have been found, provincial police chief Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters.
“We believe the attackers are not an organized group,” he added.
The most active militant group in the area, the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), denied responsibility for the attack, which no group has so far claimed. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told parliament that the TTP’s breakaway faction was to blame.
The explosion brought down the upper floor of the mosque. It was the deadliest attack in Peshawar since the twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church in September 2013, which remains the deadliest attack on the country’s Christian minority.
Peshawar sits on the edge of Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades.
The TTP is an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the government in Islamabad. The group has recently stepped up attacks on the police.
Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Writing by Miral Fahmi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore
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