Peshawar, Dec 16:
In one of the worst acts of human savagery ever perpetrated, the Pakistani Taliban senselessly slaughtered 126 school children in a brazen terror attack launched by its heavily armed gunmen and suicide bombers on an army-run school in Pakistan’s Peshawar city in retaliation to Pakistan Army’s operation against extremists in North Waziristan.
The horrifying attack was carried out by a group of paramilitary uniform-wearing terrorists who stormed the Army Public School complex in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, Pakistani media said.
The heartless attackers went on a rampage, massacring the school children, with many being shot in the head and chest from point blank range. The vicious terror strike, state-run Radio Pakistan reported, left 126 students dead and 122 injured. ARY News put the toll at 129.
The attack brought to mind Russia’s Beslan school tragedy in which nearly 400 people were killed in 2004 by Chechen extremists.
Television footage showed the surviving school children shocked and in tears. Some of them had blood on their faces. One of the students was carried away on a stretcher while another leaned onto a security personnel who helped him away.
Frightened and traumatised children recalled the horror.
“We were in the auditorium. Suddenly firing started and our teacher asked us to lie down. After one hour, the army came for our rescue,” a visibly shaken student rasped.
A teacher said that the firing started from the back door of the auditorium. Soon after the terrorists struck, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the school auditorium.
Another young student said: “It was the fourth period. We were in our classes. They (the terrorists) were carrying guns in their hands.”
“Our principal told our teacher that the students have to be evacuated. Suddenly we saw army personnel arriving,” he added.
The injured students writhed in pain, with their white shirts and green sweaters stained with blood. A child who was swathed in bandages was in tears as he narrated the terror attack.
The Taliban, which had shot at Malala Yousufzai who went on to share the Nobel Peace Prize with India’s Kailash Satyarthi, claimed responsibility for the attack that left Pakistan and the world numb with grief. The terror group called it a “revenge attack” for the army operations in North Waziristan.
The wounded and bloodied were taken away to hospitals, that later faced blood shortage, while anxious parents waited for news outside.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who flew down from Islamabad to Peshawar, said that till terrorism is not brought to an end in Pakistan, this kind of terror act will continue to happen.
“This is in retaliation of our military operation against the terrorists,” said Sharif who called it an act of cowardice which will not be tolerated at any cost.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi too strongly condemned the “cowardly terrorist attack”.
“It is a senseless act of unspeakable brutality that has claimed lives of the most innocent of human beings – young children in their school. My heart goes out to everyone who lost their loved ones today. We share their pain & offer our deepest condolences,” Modi tweeted.
Army chief General Raheel Sharif cancelled his Quetta trip and reached Peshawar. Many of the children were sons and daughters of army personnel.
On Tuesday, eyewitnesses said, over 500 students and teachers were trapped inside the building and some of the wounded lay in the corridors. Many of the students were later evacuated. A school teacher said that around 1,400 to 1,500 students study in the school.
As the terror attack progressed and the security forces encircled the school, a string of bombings took place. Over a dozen bomb blasts rang out as security forces took on the militants.
The students were initially under the impression that it was yet another army drill and the horror sank in only after they saw schoolmates being felled by bullets.
The school teachers apparently tried to shepherd the children to safety. Some were able to flee soon after the attack began at noon, while a few others were taken to safety by the security personnel who responded promptly.
Geo News said that security forces had mounted a major operation to end the terror attack. Six terrorists have been killed in the operation.
The brazen attack has drawn condemnation across the political spectrum in Pakistan.
The Peshawar terror attack comes a day after a hostage crisis in Sydney, which ended with the Iranian-orgin gunman being killed. (IANS)