Taliban terrorists stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing at least 141 people, mostly children, before Pakistani officials declared as finished a military operation to clear the school.
The overwhelming majority of the victims were students at the school, which instructs grades 1-10. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the assault and rushed to Peshawar to show his support for the victims.
A Pakistani military spokesman, Asim Bajwa, said 141 people died in the attack — 132 children and nine staff members. He declared the operation over and said the area had been cleared. An additional 121 students and three staff members were wounded.
He said seven attackers, all wearing explosive vests, all died in the assault. It was not immediately clear if the terrorists were all killed by the soldiers or whether they blew themselves up, he said. Bajwa described an assault that seemed designed purely to terrorize the children rather than take anyone hostage.
“Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids. That’s what they did,” he said.
The horrific attack, claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban, a Pakistani terrorist group trying to overthrow the government, sent dozens of wounded flooding into local hospitals as terrified parents searched for their children.
The attack began in the morning when the gunmen entered the school and started shooting randomly. Army commandos quickly arrived at the scene and started exchanging fire with the gunmen. Students wearing green school uniforms could be seen fleeing the area on Pakistani media.
Outside the school, two loud booms of unknown origin were heard coming from the scene in the early afternoon, as Pakistani troops battled with the attackers. Armored personnel carriers were deployed around the school grounds, and a Pakistani military helicopter circled overhead.
Pakistani media showed soldiers surrounding the area and pushing people back. Ambulances streamed from the area to local hospitals.
The prime minister vowed that the country would not be cowed by the violence and that the military would continue with an aggressive operation launched in June to rout terrorists from the North Waziristan tribal area.
“The fight will continue. No one should have any doubt about it,” Sharif said.
Bajwa said that 1,099 students and staff were registered at the school.
It is part of a network of schools run by the Pakistani military around the country. The student body is made up of children of military personnel as well as civilians. A government official, Javed Khan, said most of the students appeared to be civilians rather than children of army staff.
Peshawar has been the target of frequent terrorist attacks in the past but has seen a relative lull recently.
The Pakistani military launched the military operation in the nearby North Waziristan tribal area in June, vowing that it would go after all terrorist groups that had been operating in the region. With the launch of the operation, security officials and civilians feared retribution by terrorists, but until Tuesday, a widespread backlash had failed to materialize.
The violence also underscored the vulnerability of Pakistani schools, which was dramatically exposed in the attack two years ago on Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl shot in the head by a Taliban gunman outside her school in the Swat Valley for daring to speak up about girls’ rights to education. She survived, becoming a Nobel laureate and global advocate for education, but out of security concerns has never returned to Pakistan.
“I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold-blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us,” said Malala in a statement.