Infighting among extremist groups is becoming bloodier in a remote, lawless valley of the Khyber Agency which is sliding into chaos.
On Friday, a suspected suicide bomber struck at a mosque, killing over a dozen and wounding another half a dozen or more, officials said.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was quick to claim responsibility for the bombing which took place in Kolay village of Tirah Valley, which is inhibited by Akakhel tribe, a sub-clan of the Afridis.
“A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a mosque run by Lashkar-e-Islam,” political administration official Bakhtiar Khan said referring to a powerful extremist group led by commander Mangal Bagh Afridi.
Another administration official, Arshad Khan, said that at least 13 people were killed and seven wounded. “Most of the victims were loyalists of Mangal Bagh,” he added.
An aide to Mangal Bagh said that the TTP sent the bomber to attack the mosque but LeI guards identified him and opened fire at him. “At that point he blew himself up,” Muhammad Hussain told journalists while speaking by phone from Tirah Valley.
However, administration official Arshad Khan gave a different account. “The bomber, a young man, entered the mosque, planted the explosive device and dashed out. But LeI guards shot him dead and shortly afterwards a powerful explosion rocked the mosque,” Khan said.
A spokesperson for the TTP Khyber Agency chapter claimed that they had sent the bomber to target LeI loyalists. “We will continue attacking Lashkar-e-Islam,” Muhammad Afridi told journalists in a phone call from an undisclosed location. Friday’s attack came exactly three weeks after a similar suicide bombing at another Lashkar-i-Islam mosque also in Tirah Valley killed 23 people and wounded another 20 after Friday prayers.
The TTP, Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansarul Islam extremist groups are known to compete for influence in Tirah Valley – where there is no presence of security forces or intelligence agencies. The region is strategically located on the confluence of borders of three tribal agencies.
The paramilitary Frontier Corps has been conducting sporadic operations against these groups since 2009. The fourth phase of the operation – codenamed Biya Darghalum (Here I come again) – is currently under way in neighbouring Bara tehsil.
Separately, security forces defused a home-made bomb in neighbouring Landi Kotal subdivision. “We cordoned off the Charwazgai area before defusing the improvised explosive device (IED),” a security official told The Express Tribune.
The security forces have recovered several IEDs the hideouts of militants over the last one month.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2012.