Peshawar: In the bloodiest terror attack in Pakistan in years, at least 141 people, mostly children, were yesterday killed by heavily-armed Taliban suicide bombers who stormed an army-run school here and took several hostages, a throwback to the 2004 Beslan school siege by Chechen rebels.

Pakistan school attack: How events unfolded in Peshawar

A group of seven Arabic-speaking attackers, wearing para-military Frontier Corps uniforms, entered the Army Public School on Warsak Road around 10.30 am (local time), and started the massacre of innocents, spraying bullets indiscriminately, going from classroom to classroom.

Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar

They also took several hostages, using them as human shield. The death toll in the attack has reached 141 with a majority of them being students, official sources said. At least 122 others have been injured. Officials said that seven militants have died four of them blew themselves up, while others were shot dead by security forces.

A parent weeps outside the hospital. Pics/AP
A parent weeps outside the hospital. Pics/AFP

20 teachers, including the principal, and 34 students were held as hostages, an official of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak’s office said. The attack ended after all the seven Taliban attackers were eliminated and a clean-up operation was being undertaken.

World leaders united in condemning the attack as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif termed it a “national tragedy” and chaired a security meeting in Peshawar, where he was briefed about the attack and operation. Sharif reiterated that the military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ to flush out terrorists from the country’s tribal belt will continue. “It’s a sheer act of cowardice... the country should unite to combat terrorism,” he added.

About 960 students and teachers were believed to be inside the school when the attack started. Mushtaq Ghani, provincial information minister, said the militants entered through a graveyard which is adjacent to the school. The school is close to Saint Mary High School, which has also been under threat since the last couple of days.

A heavy contingent of police and security forces have blocked the roads leading to the school, taking control of the entire area. Opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, whose party rules the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, termed the attack as an act of “barbarism”. In the wake of the attack, Khan postponed his plan to shut down the entire country that was planned for December 18.

Defence minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said in a statement, “We are deeply fragmented today as a nation. For the sake of the children martyred and our children fighting the enemy for our existence, we must have one message for the enemy (that) we shall overcome, inshallah and rid our land of this scourge. Zarb-e-Azb to continue with full force and (our) Armed forces remain undeterred.”