At least 124 students were among 126 people killed today when heavily-armed Arabic speaking Taliban suicide attackers stormed an army-run school, shooting from classroom-to-classroom and taking several hostages using them as human shield in Pakistan’s volatile Peshawar city.
A group of 8-10 suicide attackers wearing paramilitary Frontier Corps uniforms entered Army Public School on Warsak Road around 10.30 (local time) and started indiscriminate firing, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said.
Official sources said that so far 124 students, one female teacher and one army personnel were killed in the attack. At least 122 others have been injured.
In one of the most gruesome attacks in recent years against children anywhere in the world, the militants went from classroom-to-classroom shooting indiscriminately at the shocked students, eyewitnesses told local media.
One rescued student told reporters that the attackers had long beards and they were wearing ‘shalwar kamiz’.
He said they were speaking Arabic and looked foreigners.
At least 24 bodies were lying in the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) and 60 others in Combined Military Hospital (CMH), Khattak said. At least 43 injured have been shifted to LRH, 40 to CMH and others to nearby hospitals.
He said at least one militant blew himself up inside the building, 2-3 others have been killed and 5-6 attackers are still inside the complex. He declared a three-day mourning.
The attackers are holding several students as hostages using them as human shields to prevent army from storming the building. Official sources said the toll could go up.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack and termed it a “national tragedy.” He has reached Peshawar to personally monitor the operation. Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif has also rushed to Peshawar from Quetta.
A police official said that the school has been cordoned off, with a rescue operation in progress. About 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside at the time of attack.
Mushtaq Ghani, provincial information minister, said the militants entered through a graveyard which is adjacent to the school, called Army Public School.
The school is close to Saint Mary High School located at the start of Warsak Road which was also under threat for last couple of days.
A heavy contingent of police and security forces have blocked the roads leading to the school, taking control of the entire area.
In a brief statement, the army said: “Rescue operation by troops underway. Exchange of fire continues. Bulk of student and staff evacuated. Reports of some children and teachers killed by terrorist.”
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman claimed that its six suicide bombers attacked army school, saying it was a revenge for the army’s operation against militants in the North Waziristan tribal area close to Peshawar.
“We want them to feel our pain,” the spokesman said.
The army had launched a massive military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ in June following a brazen militant attack on Karachi’s international airport and the failure of peace talks between the government and the Taliban negotiators.
The military has said more than 1,300 militants have been killed during the operation in North Waziristan and adjacent tribal region and it will continue till militancy was completely wiped out of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, senior minister Hidaytullah told reporters that the death toll in today’s could rise as still operation was going on and attackers have taken hundreds as hostages.
Opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Imran Khan, whose party rules Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, termed the attack as an act of “barbarism”.
Shagufta, who lives near the school, told Geo TV that she heard two explosions, a smaller one followed by a huge bang.
A student who identified himself as Shuja told Samaa TV that they were taking examination when firing started.
They were told by the teacher to lie down on the floor.
He said they remained on floor for about one hour when army soldiers came and told them to go out.
Several students escaped through the back gate. One of students who escaped told Dunya TV that fourth period was in progress when they heard firing.
“First we didn’t know what has happened. But late an army officer told us to escape through back gate,” he said.
A welcome ceremony planned in Lahore for the hockey team which won silver medal in the champion trophy in India has been postponed.
Pakistan Hockey Federation said that the ceremony would be held at a future suitable time.