Taliban militants shoot 132 students, 9 staff dead

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LATEST UPDATE : Taliban insurgents stormed an army-run school in Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 141 people, almost all of them children, in the country's bloodiest ever terror attack.

Survivors described how the militants went from room to room shooting children as young as 12 during the eight-hour onslaught at the Army Public School in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The attack, claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as revenge for a major military offensive in the region, was condemned by the US, UN and major Western powers as well as Pakistan's arch-rival India.

The Pakistani government and military reaffirmed their determination to defeat the TTP, which has killed thousands since it began its insurgency in 2007.
Chief military spokesman General Asim Bajwa said 132 students and nine staff were killed, and 125 wounded. This exceeds the 139 killed in blasts targeting former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Karachi in 2007.

Teenage survivor Shahrukh Khan described his narrow escape from the militants as they rampaged through the school, hunting for people to kill.

The 16-year-old said he and his classmates ducked below their desks when four gunmen burst into their room.

"I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches," Khan told AFP from the trauma ward of the city's Lady Reading Hospital.

Khan decided to play dead after being shot in both legs, stuffing his tie into his mouth to stifle his screams.

"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," he said.

"My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me -- I felt as though it was death that was approaching me."

There were around 500 students in the school when the attack started, and Bajwa said the attackers, equipped with ammunition and food to last "days", only wanted to kill.

"The terrorists started indiscriminate firing as they entered the auditorium so they had no intention of taking any hostages", he told reporters.

A senior security official told AFP authorities were investigating the nationality of the attackers since some were speaking in Arabic.

 'What is their sin?'

The Lady Reading Hospital was thronged with distraught parents weeping uncontrollably as children's bodies arrived, their school uniforms drenched in blood.

Irshadah Bibi, 40, whose 12-year-old son was among the dead, beat her face in grief, throwing herself against an ambulance.

"O God, why did you snatch away my son? What is the sin of my child and all these children?" she wept.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced three days of national mourning and described the attack as a "national tragedy unleashed by savages".

"These were my children. This is my loss. This is the nation's loss," he said.

Funerals of many of the victims had taken place by evening, with the rest to follow Wednesday.

Sajid Khan, the uncle of 10-year-old student Gul Sher, told AFP his nephew had plans to become a doctor, but instead God had placed him in casket.

"We cannot take the revenge from the terrorists but we pray to Allah to take the revenge," he said.

Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, herself shot by the Taliban in 2012, said she was "heartbroken" by "the senseless and cold-blooded" killing.

US President Barack Obama condemned the attack as "heinous" and said America would stand by Pakistan in its struggle against violent extremism.

Narendra Modi, the prime minister of Pakistan's neighbour and bitter rival India, said he had phoned Sharif to offer condolences.

"India stands firmly with Pakistan in fight against terror. Told PM Sharif we are ready to provide all assistance during this hour of grief," Modi tweeted.

'Soft target'

The school on Peshawar's Warsak Road is part of the Army Public Schools and Colleges System, which runs schools nationwide. Its students range in age from around 10 to 18.

Tuesday's attack was seen as shocking even by the standards of Pakistan, which has suffered thousands of deaths in bomb and gun attacks since the TTP rose up in 2007.

TTP spokesman Muhammad Khorasani said Tuesday's assault was carried out to avenge Taliban fighters and their families killed in the army's offensive against militant strongholds in North Waziristan.

"We are doing this because we want them to feel the pain of how terrible it is when your loved ones are killed," he said.

"We are taking this step so that their families should mourn as ours are mourning."

The military has hailed the offensive as a major success in disrupting the TTP's insurgency.

More than 1,600 militants have been killed since the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in June, according to data compiled by AFP from regular military statements.

Talat Masood, a retired general and security analyst, said the attack was intended to weaken the military's resolve.

"The militants know they won't be able to strike at the heart of the military, they don't have the capacity. So they are going for soft targets," Masood told AFP.

EARLIER REPORT

The death toll in the Taliban assault Tuesday on a school in northwest Pakistan has reached 141, the army said. Chief military spokesman General Asim Bajwa said 132 students and nine staff were killed in the eight-hour onslaught at the army-run school in the city of Peshawar. 

TheTaliban gunmen made no demands and started killing children as soon as they entered the building. "They didn't take any hostages initially and started firing in the hall," said General Bajwa. But the militants had brought rations for several days, he said, implying that they may have intended to take students hostage.

At least 130 people, most of them children, were killed on Tuesday after Taliban gunmen broke into a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar and opened fire, witnesses said, in the bloodiest massacre the country has seen for years.

More than eight hours after militants entered the school compound, the military declared the operation to flush them out over, and said that all nine insurgents had been killed.

The attack at a military-run high school attended by at least 500 students, many of them children of army personnel, struck at the heart of Pakistan's military establishment, an assault certain to enrage the country's powerful army.

The Taliban, waging war against Pakistan in order to topple the government and set up an Islamic state, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

"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."

As night fell on Peshawar, a teeming, volatile city near the Afghan border, security forces finally wrapped up an operation that lasted more than eight hours and involved sometimes intense gun battles.

The Taliban said the gunmen had been equipped with suicide vests. Three explosions were heard inside the high school at the height of the massacre, raising fears of more casualties.

Outside, as helicopters rumbled overhead, police struggled to hold back distraught parents who were trying to break past a security cordon and get into the school.

Officials said 122 people were wounded. A local hospital said the dead and injured were aged from 10 to 20 years old.

According to early witness accounts, a group of militants burst into the school as students attended classes and lectures, shooting indiscriminately at both pupils and teachers.

The gunmen, who several students said communicated with each other in a foreign language, managed to slip past the school's tight security because they were wearing Pakistani military uniforms, local media reported.

Pakistanis, used to almost daily militant attacks, were shocked by the scale of the massacre and the loss of so many young lives.

It recalled the 2004 siege of a school in Russia's Beslan by Chechen militants which ended in the death of more than 330 people, half of them children.

SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE

The Pakistani Taliban has vowed to step up attacks in response to a major army operation against the insurgents in the tribal areas.

But despite the crackdown this year, the military has long been accused of being too lenient towards Islamist militants who critics say are used to carry out the army's bidding in places like Kashmir and Afghanistan.

So far the Taliban have targeted mainly security forces, military bases and airports, but attacks on civilian targets with no logistical significance are relatively rare.

In September, 2013, however, dozens of people, including many children, were killed in an attack on a church, also in Peshawar in Pakistan's northwest.

The assault on a school where officers' children studied could push the armed forces into a more drastic response, analysts said.

In Peshawar, with the rescue operation still under way, hospitals overflowed with hundreds of wounded children, teenagers and adults.

"Classes 8-10 were in a special seminar on first aid in the main hall when students heard gunshots and then countless men burst in and opened fire," said Shahrukh Khan, in his mid-teens, who was shot in both legs.

"Teachers and the principal were also there. The men who burst in were speaking and shouting in an incomprehensible language. Sounded like Arabic or Farsi."

Another student told Pakistan's Dunya Television: "The attackers had long beards, wore shalwar kameez (traditional baggy clothes) and spoke Arabic."

EARLIER REPORT

At least 130 people, most of them children, were killed on Tuesday when Taliban gunmen stormed a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, taking hundreds of students hostage in the bloodiest insurgent attack in the country in years.

Troops surrounded the building and an operation was underway to rescue children still trapped inside, the army said.

Hours into the siege, three explosions were heard inside the military-run high school, and a Reuters journalist at the scene said he heard heavy gunfire.

Outside, as helicopters rumbled overhead, police struggled to hold back distraught parents who were trying to break past a security cordon and get into the school.

Bahramand Khan, director of information for the regional Chief Minister's Secretariat, said at least 126 people were killed and 122 wounded.

"It may rise," he said, adding that more than 100 of the dead were school children. A local hospital said the dead and wounded it had seen were aged between 10 and 20 years old.

The hardline Islamist Taliban movement immediately claimed responsibility.

"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."

It was not clear whether some or all of the children were killed by gunmen, suicide bombs or in the ensuing battle with Pakistani security forces trying to gain control of the building.

HOSTAGES STILL INSIDE

An unspecified number of children were still being held hostage in the school, a provincial official said, speaking some three hours after the siege began.

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

They have targeted security forces, checkpoints, military bases and airports, but attacks on civilian targets with no logistical significance are relatively rare.

In September, 2013, dozens of people, including many children, were killed in an attack on a church, also in Peshawar, a sprawling and violent city near the Afghan border.

With the rescue operation under way, the situation remained fluid, with contradictory reports about what was happening inside the school and witness accounts difficult to come by.

"An army doctor was visiting us teaching us about first aid when attackers came from behind our school and started firing," one student told Pakistan's Dunya Television.

"Our teachers locked the door and we ducked on the floor, but they (militants) broke down the door. Initially they fired in the air and later started killing the students, but left the hall suddenly.

"The attackers had long beards, wore shalwar kameez (traditional baggy clothes) and spoke Arabic."

The army said five Taliban militants had been killed and that they were searching for any remaining gunmen. The Taliban had earlier said they had sent six insurgents with suicide vests to attack the school.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack and said he was on his way to Peshawar.

"I can't stay back in Islamabad. This is a national tragedy unleashed by savages. These were my kids," he said in a statement.

"This is my loss. This is the nation's loss. I am leaving for Peshawar now and I will supervise this operation myself."

Military officials at the scene said at least six armed men had entered the military-run Army Public School. About 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside.

"We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers," said Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver.  

The Pakistani military said on Tuesday that special forces had rescued two more children and two staff members at a school that has been under attack from Taliban gunmen for around five hours. A tweet for the military also said a fifth militant had been killed. The Pakistani military said they were searching for  the remaining gunman. "Remaining clearance in progress," the military said in a tweet.

Police at the high school said they heard three explosions. They were struggling to hold back distraught parents trying to break past a cordon and get to the school when three loud explosions went off.

At least 130 people were killed and 122 injured on Tuesday in an attack by Taliban militants on a Pakistani high school, a provincial official said.

Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the city of Peshawar, taking hundreds of students and teachers hostage in the bloodiest insurgent attack in the country in years.
Bahramand Khan, director of information for the Chief Minister's Secretariat,  said more than 100 of the dead were school children.  

Troops surrounded the building and an operation was under way to rescue the remaining children, the army said. A Reuters journalist at the scene said he could hear heavy gunfire from inside the school.

Pervaiz Khattak, Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province of which Peshawar is the capital, said 84 children had been killed.

"In CMH (Combined Military Hospital) there are around 60 and there are 24 dead in Lady Reading (hospital)," he told local television channels.

It was not immediately clear 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.

Outside, helicopters hovered overhead and ambulances ferried wounded children to hospital.

An unspecified number of children were still being held hostage in the school, a provincial official said, speaking some three hours after the attack began.

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

They have targeted security forces, checkpoints, military bases and airports, but attacks on civilian targets with no logistical significance are relatively rare.

In September, 2013, dozens of people, including many children, were killed in an attack on a church, also in Peshawar.

'We want them to feel the pain'

The hardline Islamist movement immediately claimed responsibility.

"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 army said in a statement that many hostages had been evacuated but did not say how many.

"Rescue operation by troops underway. Exchange of fire continues. Bulk of student(s) and staff evacuated. Reports of some children and teachers killed by terrorist," the army said in a brief English-language statement.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack and said he was on his way to Peshawar.

"I can't stay back in Islamabad. This is a national tragedy unleashed by savages. These were my kids," he said in a statement. "This is my loss. This is the nation's loss. I am leaving for Peshawar now and I will supervise this operation myself."

Military officials at the scene said at least six armed men had entered the military-run Army Public School. About 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside.

"We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers," said Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver.

One student inside the school at the time of the attack told a private television channel: "We were in the examination hall when all of sudden firing started and our teachers told us to silently lie on the floor. We remained on the floor for an hour. There was a lot of gunfire.

"When the gunfire died down our soldiers came and guided us out."

Originally the Taliban said the attackers, including a number of suicide bombers, had been instructed not to target children and shoot only adults.

EARLIER REPORT: 104 dead and 18 injured as Taliban militants attack military school in Pakistan's Peshawar, Pakistan media reported.

Jamil Shah, a spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital, says the killed soldier was a member of the Pakistani paramilitary forces.

Taliban gunmen took hundreds of students and teachers hostage on Tuesday in a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar, military officials at the scene said.

Police officer Javed Khan says the gunmen entered the school on Tuesday morning. He says army commandos quickly arrived at the scene and exchanged fire with the gunmen.

Pakistani television showed soldiers surrounding the area and pushing people back.

Jamil Shah, a spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital, says two teenage students died in the incident and 25 others were wounded.

Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurasani claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to media.

A Reuters journalist at the scene could hear heavy gunfire from inside the school as soldiers surrounded it. Ambulances were transporting wounded children to hospital.

"We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers," said Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver.

Military officials said at least six armed men had entered the military-run Army Public School. About 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside.

"Our suicide bombers have entered the school, they have instructions not to harm the children, but to target the army personnel," Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani told Reuters.

People carry the casket of a victim of Taliban attack in a school, after receiving it from a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP)

 

This screengrab taken from AFP footage shows a child (lower) receiving treatment at a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. A Taliban attack on an army-run school in Pakistan on December 16 has left more than 100 people dead, most of them students, officials said. AFP

This screengrab taken from AFP footage shows a child reacting at a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. A Taliban attack on an army-run school in Pakistan on December 16 has left more than 100 people dead, most of them students, officials said. AFP

This screengrab taken from AFP footage shows a child receiving treatment at a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. A Taliban attack on an army-run school in Pakistan on December 16 has left more than 100 people dead, most of them students, officials said. AFP

 

A student is taken to a medical ward, after being injured during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, in Peshawar, December 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen in Pakistan took hundreds of students and teachers hostage on Tuesday in a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar, military officials said.  REUTERS

Pakistani men carry an injured school girl to a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. At least 130 people were killed in a Taliban attack on an army-run school in northwest Pakistan, officials said. AFP

Pakistani men carry an injured student to a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. At least 130 people were killed in a Taliban attack on an army-run school in northwest Pakistan, officials said.   AFP

A Pakistani paramedic prepares to move a body of a student at a hospital following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. Taliban insurgents killed at least 130 people, most of them children, after storming an army-run school in Pakistan December 16 in one of the country's bloodiest attacks in recent years. AFP

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