A surge in violence in Pakistan

Officials are keeping a close eye on the militant group that claimed responsibility for a recent mosque bombing

The rubble of a Peshawar mosque damaged in a suicide bombing.
(Image credit: Abdul Majeed/AFP via Getty Images)

On Jan. 30, a suicide bombing at a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, killed at least 100 people and injured 225 others. The attack took place in a high-security zone, as hundreds of police and army members participated in afternoon prayers. Pakistani officials have vowed to take "stern action," as concerns grow that militant groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are planning more attacks. Here's everything you need to know:

Where did the mosque bombing take place?

The bombing targeted a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The mosque was inside a government security compound, and most of the victims were police officers, local officials said. The blast caused the roof to collapse, and many of the dead were buried under the rubble.

This was the deadliest attack in Peshawar in a decade, and comes amid a surge in violence again police, Al Jazeera reports. The bombing is under investigation, with authorities working to determine how this person was able to get through such a heavily fortified area, which contains the headquarters of a counterterrorism department and the provincial police force. Syed Masood Shah, a senior police official and minister in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province's caretaker government, told The Washington Post this wouldn't have been "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."

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Has any group taken responsibility for the attack?

Yes. Following the bombing, the head of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), said his faction carried out the attack, the Long War Journal and South Asia Media Research Institute said. He claimed this was in retaliation for the 2022 killing of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar's former leader, Omar Khalid Khorasani, who died in Afghanistan. A TTP spokesman later said in a statement his group does not target mosques or other religious sites, and anyone who attacks such a place could face punitive action.

Has the TTP carried out other attacks in Pakistan?

TTP was formed in 2007, and has the goal of imposing "its hardline interpretation of Islamic law" and reversing "the merger of Pakistan's tribal areas with the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province," Al Jazeera says. In November, TTP said it was ending a ceasefire agreement that had been brokered with the Pakistani government, and encouraged its fighters to start planning attacks wherever possible. Over the course of 2022, TTP carried out at least 150 attacks in Pakistan, killing dozens of people.

In December, Pakistan's National Security Council said it had "zero tolerance for terrorism" and "reaffirmed its determination to take on any and all entities that resort to violence." The TTP responded in early January, releasing a statement that named Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Minister of Foreign Affairs Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and warned political leaders to stand down against the TTP. The group also said its target is "Pakistan's security forces who are acting against the country's interest upon wishes of the West."

Why is the TTP feeling emboldened?

Pakistan experienced devastating flooding in 2022, which wiped out crops and left roads and infrastructure underwater for weeks. The country is also dealing with high inflation, foreign debts it's struggling to pay, and political turmoil ahead of elections, taking the focus off of counterterrorism efforts. "This 'perfect storm' presents an ideal opportunity for the TTP and others of their ilk to strike at the state," editors of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn wrote on Tuesday.

The TTP was also encouraged by the Taliban recapturing the government in Afghanistan in 2021. They regrouped, and militants began going back to areas they once controlled, like Swat, The New York Times reports.

What actions might the Pakistani government take against TTP?

The TTP once had a stronghold on the remote regions of northwestern Pakistan, and often takes credit for shootings and bombings in that area. Now that the ceasefire has been dropped, many residents in North and South Waziristan, former tribal regions that are now districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are worried there the military could carry out a counteroffensive there as it did about a decade ago, The Associated Press reports.

Sharif tweeted in the wake of the mosque blast that terrorism is Pakistan's "foremost national security challenge," and Army Chief Gen. Asim Munir said "such immoral and cowardly acts cannot shake the resolve of the nation, but rather invigorate our determination to succeed in the ongoing war against terror."

Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst in Islamabad, told the Post this is "a very decisive moment for Pakistan. The mistakes made by the state, to give a way for the TTP to come back to Pakistan, should not happen again. There should be no policy to talk to them and provide them with an opportunity to regroup and get strengthened. We need a firm resolve against terrorism."

Michael Kugleman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, told the Times the best counterterrorism response would focus on "the epicenter of the TTP's power right now — and that's in Afghanistan, where the group's leadership is based. If Pakistan were to carry out counterterrorism activities that are cross-border in nature that could send tensions with the Taliban in Afghanistan through the stratosphere — and that's the last thing Pakistan needs."

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