A faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the deadly suicide bombing in Malik Saad Police Lines, Peshawar, while the TTP Central leadership denies it did it.
Considering the innovative trends in violent attacks by militant groups in the last 6 months, things point toward a worsening security climate in areas of Pakistan caused by either a new strategy employed by militant outfits for not claiming attacks or the difficulties that militant leaders have in controlling their own internal factions, possibly raising the risk of unchecked and indiscriminate attacks in Pakistan as well as overlapping operations by militant groups belonging to different alliances.
Initially, several key members of the Mohmand chapter of the TTP claimed responsibility for the attack at the mosque in Peshawar. These include its leader and TTP Central Shura member Omar Mukarram Khorasani and shadow governor for Zhob province Balochistan Sarbakaf Mohmand who gave details about the attack. However, later in the day, TTP official spokesman Muhammad Khorasani issued a statement through Umar Media claiming that the organisation was not involved in the attack, officially distancing it from the incident.
Sarbakaf Mohmand from TTP Mohamand chapter told TKD “We have carried out the attack to take revenge for our leader Omar Khalid Khorasani’s assassination. It took us 3-4 months to plan this attack. The attacker, Huzaifa 25 years old, belongs to Mohmand Agency and was studying at a seminary.” added that the plan was hatched from a house in Peshawar and “we will soon release the picture of the attacker with more details”. He refused to share any further details when asked for proof of claim.
The TTP Mohmand faction previously called the Jamatul Ahrar (JuA) had broken away from the TTP in 2014, however; the group merged back into the TTP in 2020. Its leader Omar Khalid Khorasani was assassinated last year during the peace talks under mysterious circumstances. The attack in Peshawar was the fourth retaliatory attack to avenge their leader after three other suicide bombings were carried out in Quetta and Islamabad in November and December 2022, respectively and Jamrud area of Khyber in January 2023.
Speaking with TKD, Muhammad Khorasani Spokesperson of TTP said, “We have not accepted responsibility and there are tens of accounts on social media but the official account is only Muhammad Khorasani & Umar Media. No responsibility has been accepted from these accounts. Our war is with the security agencies, the police are also a part of this system. We have no truce with them. However, the place where police have been killed and the condition in which they were killed are not part of our policy.” He further added that “we have also explained this in the declaration and have also given instructions to all our fighters that no matter how big the target is, it will not be targeted anywhere in the mosques etc.”
“As for the problem of the police, our clashes with them continue on a daily basis because they are also part of the security forces. We needed this clarification because the problem was not only the acceptance of responsibility by the fake accounts, but our influence in the whole of Pakistan, especially in KPK, and the entire Pakistani media held the movement responsible for it. We have not accepted the responsibility. All the other sources are fake accounts and if there is no fake account then we will investigate. We have a complete system of Special Ishtihadi Force, and we have complete control over it. There is no difficulty in relations with the Mohmand people – they are part of the movement, and they are people bound by our laws and principles – this is what the media has tried to prove to them on one side.” Khorarasani told TKD while also clarifying their position on reported rifts.
“In this regard, we have explained many times that Muhammad Khorasani is the official spokesperson of the movement and we are broadcasted by Omar media, besides that we are not responsible for anyone’s words. Also, if you have any concrete evidence, please send it to us and we will investigate it thoroughly.”
The attack received a different, mixed reception from jihadist organisations across the jihadist spectrum of the region. Notably, the Taliban interim government strongly condemned the attack which took place in a mosque. Conversely, many online supporters of the Pakistani Taliban praised the attack, adding that the IEA’s statement was only a political move aimed at easing diplomatic relations with Pakistan. However, other Pakistani Taliban supporters showed resentment over Afghan Taliban’s denouncement of the attack, arguing that such statements are typical of the “hypocrites”.
Others even stated that the mosque was a legal target since it should be considered like the Zarrar Masjid, disturbingly echoing an ISKP fatwa that declared non-ISKP mosques as mandatory targets. In fact, many pro-TTP supporters adopted a rhetoric which resembled in many ways to ISKP ones. Even more worrying, recently resurfaced sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi issued a statement praising the attack extending its congratulations to Mohmand chapter.
The fact that the attack in Peshawar went officially unclaimed is not an isolated case. Even during the ceasefire, there were reported attacks – many suicide ones – that were not claimed, specifically in North Waziristan. Particularly, since July 2022, at least seven major suicide attacks were carried out; 5 of these were in North Waziristan, including 2 in Miranshah, 2 in Mir Ali, and 1 in the Norak area; 1 in DI Khan district, and 1 in Gomal area, between DI Khan and Tank. These attacks are carried out at a time when Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s faction of Pakistan has heavily resumed its operations, particularly since the last fourth months of 2022, claiming several suicide operations, even publishing videos of its suicide squad al-Hamza.
At the same time, other attacks went unclaimed in other areas of South KP; for instance, a deadly explosion caused by an IED targeted a Mehsud Peace Committee in Chagmalai, South Waziristan, in November 2022, with no group taking responsibility. However, there is yet one more dynamic to add to the picture, which is the case of overlapping claims by both the TTP and Islamic State local provinces, Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP) and Islamic State Pakistan (ISPP). Such a dynamic was started in December 2021 by ISPP which claimed an attack in Rawalpindi for which TTP too claimed responsibility. Similarly, in January 2022, a similar incident in Rawalpindi happened. Subsequently, 6 other incidents were registered, this time between ISKP and TTP.
Most of these incidents happened in Peshawar and Jamrud areas, again pointing out the murky relations between some factions of the two organisations. A clear indication was witnessed in October 2022 when both TTP and ISPP issued a statement on the death of two affiliated militants in Karachi, arguing they worked for their respective groups.
The discord in the responsibility claims is not new. However, under the current circumstances, it could mean three things:
1) Indicative of infighting between TTP, which the group has managed to downplay.
2) Under pressure from the Taliban interim government, the TTP cannot claim the attack openly.
3) Pro-ISKP sentiments within the TTP are growing and indicative of deflection in the future.