PESHAWAR, Pakistan - The suicide bomber who killed more than 80 police officers at a mosque inside a sensitive compound earlier this week entered wearing a uniform and helmet, a provincial police chief said Thursday.
Hundreds of police were attending afternoon prayers inside what should have been a tightly controlled police headquarters in the northwest city of Peshawar on Monday when the blast erupted, causing a wall to collapse and crush officers.
"Those on duty didn't check him because he was in a police uniform... It was a security lapse," Moazzam Jah Ansari, the head of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial police force, told a news conference.
The suspect is shown in CCTV images arriving at the gates on a motorcycle before walking through a security checkpoint and asking officers where the mosque was located.
Authorities are investigating how a major breach could happen in one of the most sensitive areas in the city, which houses the intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus.
"Our comrades were martyred in this uniform, but the bomber made it worthless for us," Amanullah Khan, a police officer on duty at a checkpoint in Peshawar, wearing a bulletproof jacket and a helmet with a Kalashnikov in his hands, told AFP.
"Now I will doubt the uniformed officials as well as other people, which is very sad and which has created a distrust."
It is Pakistan's deadliest assault in several years and the worst since violence began to resurge in the northwest bordering Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in 2021.
On Thursday, police officials revised down the death toll, putting it at 83 policemen and one woman civilian, after saying there was confusion in registering bodies.
- A city on edge -
The assault has put a scarred city on edge, harking back to when Peshawar was at the centre of rampant violence carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban.
Most TTP fighters were rounded up, killed or pushed into Afghanistan in a military clearance operation beginning in 2014.
But analysts say Islamist militant groups -- which are highly factional -- have become emboldened since US and NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban swept into Kabul, with Islamabad accusing Afghanistan's new rulers of failing to secure their borders.
The TTP, separate from the Afghan Taliban but with a similar ideology, has mostly targeted security forces at checkpoints.
Ansari blamed militant group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar -- an occasional affiliate of the TTP -- for the attack, adding that they were searching for the bomber's handlers.
The TTP -- who once frequently attacked places of worship and schools -- has distanced itself from the Peshawar blast, claiming it no longer attacks mosques.
"They first claimed this attack and later denied any involvement after a public backlash," said Ansari.
- 'Not trained to fight a war' -
Bickering politicians who are months away from contesting a general election amid a severe economic crisis have traded blame for the deteriorating security situation.
"Multiple institutions with no policy have no ability to take a decision on launching a decisive offensive against the militant groups. We need empowered political leadership," security analyst Saad Muhammad told AFP.
"Our current police force is not trained to fight a war," he added.
Police said they have a "fair idea" about the bomber's identity, after matching his head -- found at the scene -- with security footage.
Authorities are also investigating the possibility that people inside the compound helped to coordinate the attack, a senior city police official told AFP on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.
He said at least 23 people had been detained for up to 48 hours, including some from inside the compound and from the nearby former tribal areas that border Afghanistan.
© Agence France-Presse