Over 130, mostly students, killed, 122 injured as Taliban storm school in Peshawar

 Peshawar, Dec 16: In the bloodiest terror attack in Pakistan in years, over 130 people, mostly children, were Tuesday killed by heavily-armed Taliban suicide bombers who stormed an army-run school here and took several hostages, a throwback to the 2004 Beslan school siege by Chechen rebels.

A group of 8 Arabic-speaking attackers, wearing para- military Frontier Corps uniforms, entered the Army Public School on Warsak Road around 10.30 AM (local time) and started the massacre of innocents, spraying bullets indiscriminately, going from classroom-to-classroom.

They also took several hostages using them as human shield. The death toll in the attack has reached 130 with a majority of them being students, official sources told PTI. At least 122 others have been injured. They said that so far six militants have died—four of them blew themselves up while two were shot dead by security forces. Two militants are still alive, they said. However, late in the evening, officials declared the siege as “over.”

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the attack, one of the worst in recent years.

The Taliban spokesman claimed that its 6 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.

World leaders united in condemning the attack as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif termed it a “national tragedy” and chaired a security meeting in Peshawar where he was briefed about the attack and operation.

Sharif reiterated that military operation ‘Zarb-e-azab’ to flush out terrorists from the country’s tribal belt will continue. “It’s a sheer act of cowardice…The country should unite to combat terrorism,” he added.

Army Chief General Raheel Sharif also reached Peshawar to monitor the situation.

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 like foreigners. In the incident in Beslan in North Ossetia, Russia, at least 32 armed individuals stormed a school and took more than 1,000 hostages, majority of them children. Over 330 people, mostly children, were killed in the assault.

About 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside the school when the attack started.

Mushtaq Ghani, provincial information minister, said the militants entered through a graveyard which is adjacent to the school.

The school is close to Saint Mary High School which has also been under threat since the 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.”

The army had launched the 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.

Opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief 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.

Defence minister Khawaja Asif said in a statement, “We are deeply fragmented today as a nation. For the sake of the children martyred today and our children fighting the enemy for our existence, we must have one message for the enemy (that) we shall overcome inshallah and rid our land of this scourge. Zarb-e-Azb to continue with full force and (our) Armed forces remain undeterred.