PESHAWAR -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) police in late June broke up a major terrorist plot to wreak havoc in KP, police are saying.
The KP Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) is saying that it broke up a network of Jamatul Ahrar, an offshoot of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The investigation began after two would-be suicide bombers and their facilitator accidentally blew themselves up in Sufaid Sang village May 20.
"They were on their way [via motorbike] to attack a government-run school when their explosives went off prematurely," KP CTD Senior Superintendent of Police Mian Saeed Ahmad told Central Asia Online.
"Four members of the group including the facilitators of the suicide bombers were arrested during the third week of June [and] are being interrogated," he said, adding that a man who housed the group before the May 20 explosion was among the detainees.
Another four suspects are in custody and undergoing questioning, he said, bringing the total to eight.
"We have identified the mastermind, but he's in Afghanistan," Ahmad said.
The group, had the explosion not killed the three conspirators, would have tried to perpetrate a massacre similar to the one at Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar in December 2014, authorities say.
In the APS attack, TTP gunmen killed about 150 children and teachers.
After the premature blast in Sufaid Sang, local residents called police. The KP Bomb Disposal Squad defused a second suicide vest that had not exploded, grenades and other explosives.
Based on information revealed by the investigation and by questioning of the suspects, the CTD recently raided a compound in Regi, Peshawar. Its officers seized 50kg of explosives, 14 timers, hundreds of feet of detonating cord and other bomb-making supplies.
"We are working to find out if they hid explosives in other parts of Peshawar," Ahmad said.
The same group May 18 in Mathra committed a double bombing that killed a police constable and injured 16 other Pakistanis, the CTD said. A second bomb exploded after police, rescue workers and journalists reached the scene of the first blast.
Breaking up a gang involved in major attacks in Peshawar will weaken the resolve of other militants in the area, security analysts say.
It also "will boost the morale of police ... and the general public," Maj. (ret.) Shakil Ahmad Khan, a Peshawar-based security consultant, told Central Asia Online.
Other operations are curtailing the ability of terrorists to strike Pakistan. Security forces recently installed a border management system at the Torkham crossing, facing the Afghan frontier, to examine all visitors.
The measure was meant to prevent terrorists from crossing into Pakistan
"The recently installed ... system and actions against terrorist rings operating in the cities will affect the terrorists' operations," Khan said, adding that the round-up of the suspected Peshawar terrorist network serves as a warning to other conspirators.
Members of the public are reacting with anger toward terrorists who target children.
"Those who have planned ... any attack on children in a school must be given the maximum punishment," Dilawar Khan of Peshawar, a father of five school-aged children, told Central Asia Online.
Besides improving security in schools and colleges, law enforcement must smash the terrorist networks, he said.
"Another incident after the attacks on APS and Bacha Khan University in Charsadda [in January] would have have disastrous effects [on public morale]," Yahya Jan, a student at the University of Peshawar, told Central Asia Online.