Rescuers search the rubble of a mosque in Pakistan hit by a suicide bomber
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A photo on social media shows people standing inside a mosque in Pakistan. You see rubble on the floor. You see dust in the air, and you see a massive opening where the outside wall used to be. A suicide bomber struck that mosque and killed at least 95 people by the latest count. NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Hey there, Diaa.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: How did this happen?
HADID: Well, it appears there was some failure by security forces. This blast occurred in an area of Peshawar. It's a city in northwestern Pakistan. But this was an area that was thick with security because it has so many sensitive government installations. And if this was a suicide bombing, as many suspect it was, that bomber would have passed at least two checkpoints, including one outside the mosque. And a senior official told local media today that at least 22 pounds of explosives were used in that attack. You mentioned 95 people were killed. At least two dozen of them were police officers. And they have been under attack now for many months.
INSKEEP: So this is a situation where they could have expected an attack, where they seemed to have prepared for a possibility of attack with checkpoints and yet were unable to stop the attack. Is there any idea who succeeded in getting around that security?
HADID: Well, at least one group claim responsibility. They're an offshoot of a Pakistani militant group that's loyal to the Taliban. And they've been behind a growing number of attacks in Pakistan over the past year and a half, really ever since the Taliban seized power of neighboring Afghanistan. And those attacks began in the border areas of Pakistan, but they seem to be penetrating deeper and deeper into the country. Now there's concern for Islamabad. Yesterday, police went on high alert. Snipers were deployed on rooftops. Vehicles were being stopped and searched. And already, since Christmas, there was a warning that militants were trying to bomb the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Since then, there's been armed guards posted outside cafes where wealthy foreigners and Pakistanis like to congregate. Even the farmers market has been called off since December because vendors can't guarantee security.
INSKEEP: I feel the need to just explain for people who don't follow Pakistan every day. There's this group, the Taliban, which rules Afghanistan right now. And then there's also a Pakistani branch of the Taliban, which, at least in theory, is a separate group but ideologically similar. And here they are attacking targets inside Pakistan. What is the government saying and doing about this?
HADID: Well, I should be even clearer, Steve, because this can get quite unwieldy, that the group that claimed responsibility today is an offshoot of that offshoot.
HADID: It can really do your head in, and that's partly why security here is so complicated because Pakistani authorities aren't just dealing with one militant group; they're dealing with a fractured group that often competes against each other. Now, the government has promised an investigation, but it's - this is just one of many crises that it's dealing with right now. In fact, today there's a delegation of the International Monetary Fund that's expected in Pakistan, and they're here to negotiate the release of more than a billion dollars of a bailout that's been stalled for months. And it was stalled because the finance minister had refused to accede to IMF demands until last week, when the country veered towards economic default.
INSKEEP: So the IMF is in town. This is a lot going on, and you can get a sense of the pressure on this country.
HADID: It's a lot. Consider that just last Monday, there was a nationwide blackout. Last Thursday, the local currency lost 10% of its value in just a few hours. Just yesterday, more than 90 people were killed in a bombing. Pakistanis have to deal with a lot.
INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Islamabad. Thanks for your insights, as always.
HADID: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.