At least 21 people were massacred on Wednesday by heavily-armed Taliban suicide attackers who stormed a prestigious university here in restive northwestern Pakistan and opened indiscriminate fire, in a grim reminder of the Peshawar army school attack in 2014.
The gunmen entered the Bacha Khan University named after iconic leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aliasBaacha Khan in Charsadda, some 50 kms southwest of Peshawar in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa province, and opened fire on students and teachers in classrooms and hostels, police said.
Four terrorists were also killed as security forces retaliated, bringing the death toll to 25 in the grisly attack.
The terrorists used the cover of thick, wintry fog to scaled the walls of the university before entering buildings.
Blasts and heavy gunfire were heard from inside the campus where a poetic symposium was in progress to mark the death anniversary of Baacha Khan who died on January 20, 1988.
There were about 3,000 students and 600 guests on the campus when the attack took place, Vice Chancellor of the university DrFazal Rahim said.
Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid visited university and told media that the operation launched by security forces to clear the campus has been completed.
He said the attack was a response to military operation in the province which has broken the back of terrorists.
A professor, two students and four security guards were among the dead, authorities said.
Army spokesman Lt Gen AsimSalimBajwa tweeted that four terrorists were killed during operation launched by security forces to clear the University.
"Snipers killed 2 more terrorists on roof top, total Terrorist killed so far 4. All buildings & roof top taken over by Army…," he said.
The victims were shot in the head or chest. Images from inside the university show a pool of blood on the floor of a dormitory and the charred corpses of two alleged militants lying on a staircase.
The injured were shifted to hospital. An emergency has been declared in all hospitals in the town. All schools have been closed in the area.
Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif rushed to the spot along with Corps Commander Peshawar and other top military officials where he was briefed about the operation.
Today's attack comes a little over a year after Taliban militants massacred over 150 people, mostly students, in an assault on an army-run school in Peshawar in December, 2014.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in Zurich to attend the World Economic Forum, condemned the cowardly attack, saying those killing innocent students and citizens have no faith and religion.
"We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland. The countless sacrifices made by our countrymen will not go in vain," he said in a statement.
Sharif expressed sorrow and grief on the loss of precious lives in the terror attack.
"The terrorists will see a ruthless response by the state. Cowards and their financers will see our national resolve to eliminate terror from the country. The entire nation is united and one against terrorism," he stressed.
Omar Mansoor, who masterminded the Peshawar school attack, claimed responsibility for today's assault.
He called local media from a mobile number in Afghanistan to claim that they have carried out the attack.
A spokesman of the militant group said it was revenge for those killed by security forces since Peshawar school attack. The attacks would continue, he warned.
But the spokesman of another Taliban faction, Mohammad Khurasani, condemned the attack and said they were not involved in it.
Geo TV reported that Professor Hamid Hussain of chemistry department was also among dead.
"A teacher of the varsity after evacuation said Chairman Chemistry Department Hamid has been martyred by the firing of the militants," it said, adding the terrorists barged into Hamid's room and fired at his head, killing him instantly.
President MamnoonHussain also condemned the attack. Provincial Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, who is visiting the UK, cut short his trip and was returning home. Opposition Awami National Party announced 10-day of mourning.
Speaker and Deputy Speaker National Assembly, chief ministers of Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh and Tehrik-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan also condemned the attack.
The families of students have lined up outside the university. Up to 20 ambulances have entered the university to rescue the injured.