Military officials in Pakistan say a would-be Islamic State female suicide bomber had planned to assault a church during Easter celebrations Sunday in Lahore before a counterterrorism raid captured her this past Friday.
Army spokesman General Asif Ghafoor at a news conference Monday identified the suspect as Naureen Leghari, saying she is still under investigation.
The young woman, officials say, has told investigators she was contacted and radicalized by IS operatives through social media.
Ghafoor also dismissed reported claims that Leghari had traveled to Syria and received training at IS-run terror camps there. He said the evidence collected so far has established she never went to Syria.
“We are debriefing her. Our first effort is that she should go back and live a normal life. And the next is that we should do measures collectively as a nation that our kids are not misguided and they are not lured into such activities again,” Ghafoor said.
The spokesman released a video confessional statement in which Leghari says she was studying in a medical college in the southern city of Hyderabad and only recently moved to Lahore with two other accomplices to execute the terrorist plot.
“We were given two suicide vests, four hand grenades and some bullets by our organization. The [explosives-filled] jackets were to be used for an attack on a church on Easter and I was tasked to be the suicide bomber,” Leghari said. “But the security forces raided their hideout on the night of April 14 and arrested them.”
Pakistani authorities have repeatedly asserted that there is no “organized” presence of IS in the country, but critics question those claims, citing recent arrests of loyalists of the group from major cities, including the national capital of Islamabad and Karachi.
More than 70 people, including Muslims and Christians, were killed during Easter celebrations in 2016 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded park in Lahore, the capital of the country’s most populous province of Punjab. A splinter Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaatul Ahrar, or JuA, claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.
Ghafoor said that Friday’s raid that led to Leghari’s detention was conducted as part of a nationwide military-led operation launched in February to rid Pakistan of militant networks linked to terrorist groups, including IS.
A series of deadly suicide bombings across Pakistan in early February prompted the military to undertake the operation. Militants linked to JuA took credit for most of the violence, though IS claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of a Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan that killed scores of people and wounded more than 300 others.
Ghafoor said Monday the security operation has since detained more than 4,500 suspected militants.
He also announced that Ehsanullah Ahsan, a central leader of the Jamaatul Ahrar faction, has surrendered to Pakistani security forces. The military spokesman refused to discuss details or circumstances that led to the surrender of Ahsan, who was allegedly operating out of Afghan border areas.