South Asia

132 children massacred in attack on school

A Pakistani army soldier takes position on a bunker close to a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar on Tuesday. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in Peshawar, killing and injuring hundreds, officials said.

A Pakistani army soldier takes position on a bunker close to a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar on Tuesday. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in Peshawar, killing and injuring hundreds, officials said.   | Photo Credit: Mohammad Sajjad

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"We targeted the school because army targets our families. We want them to feel our pain," the Taliban said.

On a chilly winter day in Peshawar, parents rushed to prepare their children for their last journey before sunset. School uniforms with green blazers and grey flannel trousers soaked in blood were cut off from young bodies brought home, before they were bathed and wrapped in white burial shrouds and put into coffins, which then headed for the local graveyards.

Tuesday was examination day at the Army Public School in Peshawar when six militants of the Tehreek-e-Taliban stormed the premises and shot dead about 141 people, 132 of them students, going from classroom to classroom seeking their prey.

Children who escaped saw their teacher being set on fire tied to her chair. As many as 250 lay wounded in a crime so heinous and horrific that within a few hours, most world capitals reached out to Islamabad.

Clad in the steel grey shalwar kameez uniforms of the Frontier Corps, the militants entered the school around 10 a.m. via a graveyard at the back. Blowing up their vehicle, they sent a message that they were not returning. Survivors said the militants told them to recite prayers as they were going to be killed.





Claiming responsibility for the attack, TTP spokesman Muhammad Khorasani said in a statement sent to the media, that the Taliban were forced to attack the school because of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and Operation Khyber-I . “We claim responsibility. We have sent in six attackers, [however by late evening nine militants were taken out], including target killers and suicide attackers. They have been ordered to shoot the older students, but not the children. We are giving them direct instructions to not harm minors. We want them [the army] to feel our pain because they target our families,” Khorasani boasted.

A visibly shocked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to continue the fight against terror. “We will work with Afghanistan towards ending militancy. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is progressing successfully, and the country should pray for and support the operation,” he said at Peshawar.

The author is a Pakistan-based journalist

Students recount horror

One of the wounded students, Abdullah Jamal, said that he was with a group of 8th, 9th and 10th graders who were getting first-aid instructions and training with a team of Pakistani army medics when the violence began for real.

When the shooting started, Jamal, who was shot 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 have got a bullet,” he said, speaking from his hospital bed.

Another student, Amir Mateen, said they locked the door from the inside when they heard the shooting but gunmen blasted through the door anyway and started shooting.

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

There was conflicting information about how many attackers carried out the violence, but it was a relatively small number.

'Attack in revenge for the killings of Taliban members'

Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurasani claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to media, saying that six suicide bombers had carried out the attack in revenge for the killings of Taliban members at the hands of Pakistani authorities. But the chief minister said there were eight attackers, dressed in military uniforms. Two were killed by security forces and one blew himself up, Mr. Khattak said. The rest were still fighting.





Peshawar has been the target of frequent militant attacks in the past but has seen a relative lull recently.

The Pakistani military launched the military operation in the nearby North Waziristan tribal area in June, vowing that it would go after all militant groups that had been operating in the region. With the launch of the operation, security officials and civilians feared a backlash by militants targeted by the military but until Tuesday, a widespread backlash had failed to materialize.

Tuesday’s attack calls into question whether the militants have been crippled by the military or will be able to regroup. This appeared to be the worst attack in Pakistan since the 2008 suicide bombing in the port city of Karachi killed 150 people.

The violence also underscored the vulnerability of Pakistani schools, which was dramatically exposed in the attack two years ago on Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl shot in the head by a Taliban gunman outside her school in Swat Valley for daring to speak up about girls’ rights. She survived, becoming a Nobel Prize laureate and global advocate for girls’ education but out of security concerns has never returned to Pakistan.

Militants have also blown up schools in the northwest.

Heartbroken: Malala

“I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us,” said Malala in a statement. “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters, but we will never be defeated.”

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

Reactions

World leaders condemned the ghastly attack on children.

Strongly condemning the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "It is a senseless act of unspeakable brutality that has claimed lives of the most innocent of human beings - young children in their school."





British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "The news from Pakistan is deeply shocking. It's horrifying that children are being killed simply for going to school."





Congress party's vice president said: "We stand united with the people of Pakistan in their resolve to fight the menace of terrorism."

More reactions from Twitter:





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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 8:11:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/taliban-attack-peshawar-army-school-take-hundreds-hostage/article6697297.ece

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