At least 100 people have been killed, including 84 children, after Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar, in one of the worst ever militant attacks to hit the troubled region.
The attack started with the gunmen entering the 500-pupil school – which has students in grades 1-10, thought to be ages 5 to 14 – in the early hours and shooting at random, going from classroom to classroom.
Army commandos quickly arrived at the scene and exchanged fire with the gunmen. Eye-witnesses described how students cowered under desks as dead bodies were strewn along corridors.
Some students are being held hostage and intense fighting continues more than three hours after the attack began, according to defence officials. It’s thought that three gunmen are holed up inside, three having died.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the massacre a ‘national tragedy’ and is on his way to the area.
‘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.’
Mudassar Abbas, a physics laboratory assistant at the school, said some students were celebrating at a party when the attack began.
‘I saw six or seven people walking class-to-class and opening fire on children,’ he said.
A student who survived the attack said soldiers came to rescue students during a lull in the firing.
‘When we were coming out of the class we saw dead bodies of our friends lying in the corridors. They were bleeding. Some were shot three times, some four times,’ the student said.
‘The men entered the rooms one by one and started indiscriminate firing at the staff and students.’
Mushtaq Ghani, the spokesman for the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told journalist Aamir Iqbal: ‘At least six militants wearing military uniforms entered the school from back wall of the school that is known as ‘Army Public School’.
‘There is a graveyard attached to back wall of the school that is run by Pakistani Military, most of the students studying in this school were children of military officers.
‘Attacking innocent children is the most abominable crime and such an attack will not be accepted at all.
‘This can be the reaction of ongoing military operations against terrorists in the North Waziristan area of Pakistan.’
Student Shuja khan claimed that ‘the attack took place the time a senior military officer started his address during the function that was going on inside the school’.
He added: ‘I am not sure but he was the Corp Commander Peshawar who when he started his speech terrorists opened fire on the students sitting in the function.’