PAKISTAN

Pakistan school siege ends, all militants killed, police say

6 min

A bloody assault launched by the Pakistani Taliban on a school in Peshawar has now ended and all the attackers have been killed, police and the army said Tuesday. The army said at least 141 people were killed in the attack, most of them children.

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The assault on the army-run school in the northwest city of Peshawar killed at least 141 people, most of them students but also some teachers, according to officials.

"The combat operation is over, the security personnel are carrying out a clearance operation and hopefully they will clear the building in a while," police official Abdullah Khan told AFP.

"Dead bodies of six terrorists have been found in the building," Khan said.

The Pakistani Taliban had said they dispatched six gunmen with suicide vests to carry out the attack.

Chief army spokesman General Asim Bajwa told a news conference that 132 of the dead were children and another nine were school staff members. He said that seven attackers had been involved.

Bajwa said earlier that explosive devices planted in the school buildings by the militants were slowing cleanup efforts.

Special forces soldiers had rescued more than a dozen staff and students, Bajwa said. The Army Public School is attended by boys and girls from both military and civilian backgrounds.

‘We want them to feel the pain’

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the assault, describing it as a “national tragedy” before rushing to Peshawar in a show of support for the victims.

A statement from the office of French President François Hollande condemned the “despicable” attack in Peshawar. “No words can describe such a despicable attack on children at their school,” a statement from the Elysée Palace said.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and loved ones," US President Barack Obama said. "By targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once again shown their depravity. We stand with the people of Pakistan and reiterate the commitment of the United States to support the government of Pakistan in its efforts to combat terrorism and extremism, and to promote peace and stability in the region.''

The attack began in the morning hours, when at least six Taliban gunmen entered the school. An estimated 500 students and teachers were believed to be in the building at the time.

Troops quickly arrived at the scene, where heavy gunfire could be heard. Helicopters hovered overhead and ambulances ferried wounded students to the hospital as terrified parents searched for their children.

“My son was in uniform in the morning. He is in a casket now,” wailed one parent, Tahir Ali, as he came to the hospital to collect the body of his 14-year-old son, Abdullah. “My son was my dream. My dream has been killed.”

The Pakistani Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had stormed the school because they wanted revenge for the Pakistani military targeting their own families.

"We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females," said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani. "We want them to feel the pain."

The Taliban, who are fighting to topple the government and set up a strict Islamic state, have vowed to step up attacks against Pakistani targets in response to a major army operation against the insurgents in the tribal areas.

Peshawar has been the target of frequent militant attacks in the past. In September last year dozens of people, including many children, were killed in an attack on a church there. Recently, however, the city has been relatively calm.

Children ‘crying and screaming’

Speaking from his bed in the trauma ward of the city's Lady Reading Hospital, Shahrukh Khan, 16, said he and his classmates were in a career guidance session in the school auditorium when four gunmen wearing paramilitary uniforms burst in.

"Someone screamed at us to get down and hide below the desks," he said, adding that the gunmen shouted "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) before opening fire.

"Then one of them shouted: 'There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them'," Khan told AFP.

"I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches."

Khan said he felt searing pain as he was shot in both his legs just below the knee.

He decided to play dead, adding: "I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn't scream.

"The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again.

Another student wounded in the attack, Abdullah Jamal, said that he was with a group of older children who were getting first-aid training with a team of Pakistani army medics when the attack began.

When the shooting started, Jamal, who was hit in the leg, said nobody knew what was going on in the first few seconds.

“Then I saw children falling down who were crying and screaming. I also fell down. I learned later that I [was shot],” he said, speaking from his hospital bed.

Another student, Amir Mateen, said they locked the doors from the inside when they heard gunfire, but that the attackers blasted through the door anyway and began shooting.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS and AFP)

In Pictures: The Pakistani Taliban's attack on a school in Peshawar

 

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