By: Pramod Thomas
Pakistan’s security agencies arrested 17 suspects in connection with the suicide blast in a high-security zone mosque in Peshawar that killed 101 people, including 97 policemen, as Army chief Gen Asim Munir vowed zero tolerance for terror groups and directed his generals to eliminate the threat of militancy.
A Taliban suicide bomber who was present in the front row during the Zuhr (afternoon) prayers on Monday blew himself up, causing the roof to collapse on the worshippers.
Sources said that the security agencies have arrested 17 suspects involved in the devastating blast – deadliest attack on the security personnel in decades in Pakistan.
The arrests have been made from close vicinity of the Police Lines area and the suspects were shifted to interrogation cell for investigation, sources told PTI on condition of anonymity.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, saying it was part of a revenge attack for slain TTP commander Umar Khalid Khurasani who was killed in Afghanistan in August last.
The development comes as Pakistan’s top generals vowed that perpetrators will be brought to exemplary justice.
General Munir, who presided over the 255th Corps Commanders’ Conference held at general headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday, said that the military was determined to eliminate the threat of militancy from the country.
The army chief referred to the Peshawar mosque attack and said that “such immoral and cowardly acts cannot shake the resolve of the nation rather reinvigorate our determination to succeed in ongoing war against terror with zero tolerance for any terrorist entity,” according to a statement issued by the army.
General Munir, who on Monday was in Peshawar along with Prime Minister Shebhaz Sharif following the suicide bombing, “directed all commanders to continue focus on anti-terrorism operations in coordination with intelligence and law enforcement agencies with renewed resolve till the time we achieve sustainable peace,” the statement said.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told parliament on Tuesday that 97 policemen were among the dead.
He said that past policies were responsible for terrorism plaguing the nation. “We created mujahideen but they have become terrorists,” he said, referring to the Afghan war against the erstwhile USSR.
The blast shocked residents in Peshawar – once known as “the city of flowers”.
The policemen took out a protest rally in Peshawar on Wednesday demanding fair and transparent investigation into the deadly bombing. The speakers of the rally demanded formation of a joint Investigation team to probe the blast.
They also demanded exemplary punishment to elements involved in the devastating bombing that killed innocent people, mostly policemen.
The rally was largely attended by people from a cross section of the society.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has urged all political forces to unite against terrorists who are targeting not a sect or particular segment of society but the entire nation.
Asif was on Tuesday asked by journalists outside the parliament building about the possibility of any fresh operation against the militants.
He said that the high-level National Security Committee (NSC) would decide about launching a military operation to eliminate militancy.
“This is a decision that the National Security Committee will take. Such things can be decided at a forum (like the NSC) which is able to take such major decisions,” he said.
Addressing the parliament on Tuesday, he urged all political forces to unite against terrorists who are targeting not a sect or particular segment of society but the entire nation.
“There is a need to create a consensus like (at the time of) the Zarb-e-Azb operation against this kind of terrorism. It is being hoped that the prime minister would take a step in this direction,” the defence minister said.
Zarb-e-Azb was launched after the Peshawar school bombing of 2014 which had killed around 150 people, mostly students. During the operation, the security forces killed and expelled militants.
Asif said that the latest bombing in Peshawar was no less a tragedy than the 2014 Army Public School massacre and a similar consensus was needed by politicians from all parties.
He also said that Pakistan had suffered over USD 126 billion in economic losses and 83,000 deaths including, armed forces personnel, police officials and others but the world had not acknowledged it.
He accused the previous government of Imran Khan of holding talks with the Taliban.
“Two years ago, we were briefed that we can talk to these people (the terrorists). Later, they were allowed to settle in the country,” he said.
He questioned who should be held responsible for the bloodshed in Peshawar.