PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The massacre of innocent schoolchildren at a military-run school in Pakistan this week didn't just shock the nation and the world — it divided even the militant groups who had seemed hardened to indiscriminate violence.
"The intentional killing of innocent people, children and women are against the basics of Islam and this criteria has to be considered by every Islamic party and government," Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement soon after the horrific siege, which left 148 people dead, most of them children.
The Afghan Taliban are allied to the Pakistani Taliban across the border, and both are fighting to overthrow their own governments and establish an Islamic state. The two groups are so closely linked that the Pakistanis pledge allegiance to the Afghan group’s leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The Pakistani Taliban — headed by Maulana Fazlullah, the man who ordered the assassination of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai — claimed responsibility for the Peshawar school attack. He said it was revenge for Pakistan’s military campaign against the Taliban in the country's northwest.
After the Afghan Taliban, a major splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan- Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA) also publicly condemned the attack, calling it “un-Islamic, inhuman and unethical."
"We consider Mullah Mohammad Omar our supreme leader. When he and his Taliban condemned the attack on school, there is no other way for us except to strongly condemn the attack on the school and the ruthless killing of innocent children there," said Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman of the TTP-JA.
He said they had expressed their sympathies and condolences to the families of the children who died in the siege at the Army Public School in Peshawar, where many students are the children of Pakistani military personnel.
Privately, commanders agreed that the TTP’s actions were a step too far.
"No religion allows this what these people had done in Peshawar,” a senior Pakistani commander who spoke on the condition of anonymity told NBC News. “Attacking a school and killing innocent children is not bravery.”
Another member of the TTP-JA said the massacre had saddened them — and hurt their standing.
"It damaged the image of jihadi organizations in eyes of the fellow Muslims, which Maulana Fazlullah and his men don't understand," said the commander, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The strike also looked certain to deepen existing divisions.
"These were the reasons we left Maulana Fazlullah and his men. They don’t have principles for running a jihadi organization,” said the commander. “Fazlullah and his men have no vision and mission except to kill innocent people."
He said before separation, they had tried several times to convince Fazlullah and his senior commanders to develop a proper strategy and have policies regarding women’s healthcare and education — but he didn't listen.
"Maulana Fazlullah has become controversial in jihadi circles and it was a huge embarrassment for him and his organization when the Afghan Taliban condemned their act publicly," the commander said.
A senior member of the Afghan Taliban said Fazlullah and his commanders complained to them after the group denounced the massacre.
“We told them that attacking schools and killing children, even non-Muslims, has never been our policy," he added.