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Taliban offshoot claims responsibility Pakistan mosque bombing that killed 59 people

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today in Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed at least 59 people and wounded dozens more in a mosque in the city of Peshawar. It was the deadliest attack in the country in almost a year, as NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

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DIAA HADID, BYLINE: In footage shared on social media, ambulances wail as they rush to a mosque rocked by a powerful bombing.

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HADID: One eyewitness, speaking to local media outlet The Khorasan Diary, says prayers had just begun when he heard a blast.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He says the explosion tore away the mosque ceiling, and then the walls fell on top of him.

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HADID: Well into the night, medics were digging out casualties from under the rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Mourners prayed as dozens of coffins draped with Pakistani flags and flower petals were laid in long rows.

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HADID: An offshoot of the Taliban claimed responsibility. That offshoot is known as the TTP. It stepped up their attacks in Pakistan since the Taliban seized power of neighboring Afghanistan a year and a half ago. Pakistan's government accuses the Taliban of providing safe harbor for the group. But this bombing highlighted local security failures. The perpetrator struck a mosque frequented by police in a heavily guarded part of the city of Peshawar. He should have been searched multiple times to reach that mosque. And Amir Rana, the director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, says the country's powerful military is also to blame. He says the military began negotiations with the group, the TTP, shortly after the Taliban seized power.

AMIR RANA: It was the Pakistan military was directly talking with the TTP leadership.

HADID: He says as a goodwill measure, the army quietly allowed militants to return to their homes in Pakistan.

RANA: But I think this was the biggest mistake. And when they have infiltrated inside Pakistan, they again started the terrorist attacks.

HADID: The TTP militants returning soon triggered public outrage, particularly in the Swat Valley, a place the group ruled with brutal violence over a decade ago.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

HADID: And so last October, tens of thousands of residents there flooded the streets in angry demonstrations against the Army for allowing the militants to return.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).

HADID: Protesters chanted, this terrorism - not acceptable. These bomb blasts - not acceptable. Rana, the director of the Peace Institute, says the military later quietly stopped allowing militants to return. By that point, anyway, negotiations with the TTP fell apart, and the militants returned to violence. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIK FRIEDLANDER'S "NIGHT WHITE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.