PAKISTAN

Scores killed in Taliban attack on army-run school in Pakistan

A Majeed, AFP | Men carry an injured school girl to a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar
3 min

At least 126 people, most of them students, were killed on Tuesday after Taliban gunmen stormed an army-run school in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, in the worst attack to hit the country in years.

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

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 reportedly be heard. Helicopters hovered overhead and ambulances ferried wounded children 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.”

Outside the school, two loud booms of unknown origin were heard coming from the scene in the early afternoon, as Pakistani troops battled with the attackers. Armoured personnel carriers were also deployed around the school grounds.

The information minister for the province, Mushtaq Ghani, said 126 people were killed in the attack. Most of the dead were students, children and teenagers from the school, he said.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether some or all of the children were killed by the gunmen or in the ensuing battle with Pakistani security forces trying to gain control of the building. It was also uncertain exactly how many students and staff still remained inside the facility.

Pervaiz Khattak, the chief minister of the province where Peshawar is located, said fighting was still underway in some parts of the school.

‘We want them to feel the pain’

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, 2013, 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’

One student wounded in the attack, Abdullah Jamal, said that he was with a group of older children who were getting first-aid instruction and training with a team of Pakistani army medics when the violence 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 door from the inside when they heard the gunfire, but that the attackers blasted through the door anyway and began shooting.

The school is located on the edge of a military cantonment in Peshawar, but the bulk of the students are civilian.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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