A powerful commander of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan claimed credit for a suicide bombing at a mosque run by a rival terror group in the contested tribal agency of Khyber today, killing five people.
The suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside of a Lashkar-e-Islam mosque in the Tirah Valley in Khyber, killing three militants and two civilians, and wounding nine other people, according to AFP. A spokesman for the Lashkar-e-Islam blamed the Taliban for the attack.
Mohammed Afridi, a spokesman for Taliban commander Tariq Afridi, told The Associated Press that his factions carried out the attack. Tariq Afridi, the powerful commander based in Darra Adam Khel, has taken control of Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s operations in Khyber.
Today’s attack is the second carried out by the Taliban outside a mosque in the Tirah Valley this month. On March 2, a suicide bomber killed 22 people outside another Lashkar-e-Islam mosque. The Taliban claimed credit for the suicide attack, and said it was carried out to avenge the deaths of several Taliban fighters at the hands of the Lashkar-e-Islam last month.
The Lashkar-e-Islam occasionally allies with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and occasionally feuds with the terror group. Lashkar-e-Islam has also clashed with the Pakistani military and the government-backed Zakhakhel tribe, which has allied with the Ansur-ul-Islam, a banned terrorist group. The military has recently claimed it drove the Lashkar-e-Islam from the Tirah Valley, but the group still has a strong presence there.
Pakistani officials claimed that they killed Mangal Bagh, the head of the Lashkar-e-Islam, during a six-day-long operation earlier this month [for more information on Mangal Bagh, see LWJ report, A profile of Mangal Bagh]. The report has not been confirmed, however, and Bagh’s spokesman denied that the leader had been killed.
The Lashkar-e-Islam has established its own Taliban-like government in large areas of the tribal agency, including Bara, Jamrud, and the Tirah Valley. The group provides recruits to battle US and Afghan forces across the border, and has attacked NATO’s vital supply line which moved through Khyber before it was shut down by the Pakistani government in November 2011. The Pakistani military has targeted the Lashkar-e-Islam during multiple operations since 2008, but has failed to dislodge the group from power.
The Tirah Valley is a known haven for the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Islam, al Qaeda, and other Pakistani terror groups. Safe havens in this valley enable these terror groups to launch attacks inside Pakistan as well as across the border in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. In a December 2010 drone strike in the Tirah Valley, the US killed Ibn Amin, a dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda military commander who operated in the Swat Valley. The Lashkar-e-Islam avenged Amin’s death by executing four of its members who were thought to have betrayed him.