Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in Pakistan, killing more than 140 people, most of them schoolchildren, in one of the worst militant attacks to hit the already troubled region. 

"I saw them set one of our teachers on fire in front of me," he said.
The scale and level of brutality in the massacre marked a grim milestone in Pakistan's seven-year battle against Islamist insurgents. Of the 141 killed, 132 were schoolchildren. Fifteen bodies of students were burned so badly they couldn't be immediately identified when they were brought to the city's Combined Military Hospital, security officials said.
Amir Ameen, 18 years old, said he and 11 other students were taking an exam when two gunmen entered their classroom. They shot students one by one, mostly in the head, he said from his bed at Peshawar's Lady Reading Hospital.
The attackers shouted "Allahu akbar" or "God is great" over and over as they shot each student, Mr. Ameen said. They spoke Pashto—the language of Pakistan's Pashtun ethnic majority in northwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.
The gunmen shot the teacher in his classroom and her 2-year-old daughter, who she was cradling in her arms, Mr. Ameen said.
"I am the only survivor from my class. I was hit in the stomach. I just played dead when they checked on me," he said.
For the U.S., the attack fueled concerns about violence and terrorists finding safe havens along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the attack was to avenge a major Pakistani military operation this year to clear Taliban strongholds in the North Waziristan tribal area along the border. All seven attackers, who wore suicide vests packed with explosives, were killed, the military said.
The assault began when a squad of gunmen entered the Army Public School on Warsak Road in Peshawar, capital of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, around 11 a.m. and took control of buildings, according to security officials.
Army and police personnel surrounded the school building shortly after the attack began.
Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, a military spokesman, said that when the gunmen entered the school auditorium, the children ran for the exits, where they were picked off.
"The bodies of children were lying piled on top of each other," he said. "They didn't take hostages. They just shot indiscriminately."
More than 1,000 students, girls and boys from preschool to high school, were on the campus when the attack began, officials said. Security personnel, including the army's special-forces unit, swept through the sprawling campus, building by building. But bombs planted by the attackers slowed the operation.
The gunmen eventually holed up in the administration bloc, where they were either killed by soldiers or blew themselves up, the military spokesman said. In that building, troops found 30 children alive, hiding in bathrooms or under furniture.
Most of the students managed to flee the compound while the attack was in progress, according to the military.
In addition to the children who died, nine of those killed were school staff and more than 120 people were wounded including nine soldiers, the military said.
"This surely is enough to wake up the whole nation," said Maj. Gen. Bajwa. "We will go after all the terrorists and their sympathizers, abetters, and facilitators. Until we get them all, this will not end."
Abdur Rahman, who heads an ambulance crew for a charity, arrived at the scene within half an hour of the start of the attack and said he saw bodies being thrown out of windows.
"The dead children we transported were shot in the head and in the face, some in the eye, as if the gun was close to them," he said. "The children who were injured had gunshot wounds on the back of their legs and arms. They were in shock, but told us they were hit as they ran away from the attackers."
Children wearing the school's green, yellow and white uniforms, some soaked in blood, flooded the hospitals along with their distraught families. Some students came to donate blood.
"They have attacked funerals and mosques, for them there is no limit. They are operating outside human values," said Mehmood Shah, a retired security official in Peshawar. "They want to terrorize the population into submission."
The Pakistani Taliban sent the suicide attackers as "revenge for the military operation in Waziristan," said Muhammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the group. He said they targeted that school because many students were children of military personnel.
"In the tribal areas, the military hits our innocent children on purpose," he said by phone. "We want army people to feel the hurt caused by targeting children."
The Army Public School is part of a military-run system of 146 such schools across Pakistan, offering education from primary to high-school levels, and is open to children of military personnel as well as civilians. It was unclear how many of the dead children were from military families. The school is in the city's military zone, which is supposed to be heavily guarded. However, the assailants used only a ladder to enter the compound from a graveyard behind it, the military said.
The Pakistani Taliban, formed in 2007, is closely linked to al Qaeda. It was inspired by the Afghan Taliban and pays homage to that group's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, as its spiritual leader. Both groups often use the same sanctuaries on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, but the Pakistani Taliban operates independently.
The raid on the Peshawar school was so extreme that it even drew rare condemnation from some groups aligned with Islamist militancy, including the Afghan Taliban.
"The murder of innocent people, especially women and children, is against the laws of Islam. This principle applies to all Islamic organizations and governments," the group said.
Hafiz Saeed, leader of Jamaat ud Dawa which was blamed by the international community for the 2008 attack on Mumbai, India, said this attack was carried out by the enemies of Islam.
"It is open terrorism," he said. "These are barbarians operating under the name of jihad."
"I am heartbroken by this senseless and coldblooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us," said 17-year-old Ms. Yousafzai. "Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this."The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination two years ago of Malala Yousafzai, a youthful advocate of education for girls, which the Taliban opposes. She survived and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
While Pakistan is taking on the Pakistani Taliban, it is under pressure from the U.S. and neighbors India and Afghanistan to also tackle those Pakistani-based militants who only attack its neighbors. Pakistan has long been accused of tolerating or even supporting some jihadist groups that carry out strikes in Afghanistan or India, even while it fights other militants.
The Pakistan army now insists that it is going after all militant groups without discrimination
"By targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once again shown their depravity," President Barack Obama said.
The U.S. urged both Pakistan and Afghanistan to deny havens to terrorists in their territory. U.S. officials said they couldn't confirm reports that the Pakistani Taliban group that claimed responsibility is based in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials have long feared that the military's North Waziristan operation, launched in June, would unleash revenge attacks by militants across the country. However, until Tuesday's assault, the blowback had been relatively muted. The U.S. had pressed Pakistan for the North Waziristan operation for years.
Since the army's offensive began, there had been no major Taliban attacks in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the province that borders the tribal areas and is often on the front line of the violence.
"No one should be in any doubt that our fight against terrorism will continue," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said after arriving in Peshawar Tuesday. "There will be no dent in our resolve as a result of incidents like this."
North Waziristan, a stronghold for Pakistani militants, Afghan insurgents and al Qaeda, was the last major part of the tribal areas that hadn't been cleared. Pakistan began a series of operations against militants in 2009 in the northwest of the country, but North Waziristan had been left to fester until this year.
Most of North Waziristan has been cleared of militants, the Pakistani military says, though it concedes that many left before the well-flagged government operation began.
Part of the Pakistani Taliban is based in eastern Afghanistan, beyond the reach of Pakistan's army. Islamabad is seeking cooperation from U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and the Afghan army to act against the Pakistani Taliban sanctuaries in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces in eastern Afghanistan.
  • Insights Into Pakistan's Taliban
  • "There were trails of bullet wounds across children's bodies, as if somebody had moved the gun along them while shooting," said Dr. Mohammad Haroon at Lady Reading Hospital. He said many of the injuries were "consistent with intense, sustained gunfire at close range." Some of the children had shrapnel lodged in their chests and abdominal cavities from blasts, he said.
Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, in a statement following the attack on a Peshawar school, called on the international community to stand up together in the fight against terrorism. 
—Julian E. Barnes and Felicia Schwartz contributed to this article.
Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com

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