Our darkest hour

By Manzoor Ali / Riaz Ahmad

132 pupils, 9 staffers killed in Taliban attack on army school in Peshawar. PHOTO: AFP

PESHAWAR: 

The school bell never rang. And 132 children never returned home.

On Tuesday, Peshawar witnessed the bloodiest and the most savage terrorist attack the country has seen in years. At least 141 people, including nine staff members, were killed and 121 wounded when seven Taliban gunmen stormed the Army Public School and Degree College on Warsak Road in the Cantonment area around 11am.

More than eight hours after the gunmen slipped into the heavily guarded compound through a back entrance, chief military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa declared the operation to flush them out over, saying that all the attackers had been killed. At least a dozen explosions were heard during the course of the operation.

The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) immediately claimed responsibility for the sickening attack. “We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females,” said TTP spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani. “We want them to feel the pain.”

Briefing the media after the school compound was cleared by army commandos, Maj Gen Bajwa said, “Today is a day of national tragedy and the blackest day of our history.” He added that seven security personnel, including two officers, were wounded in the operation.

The military spokesperson said that all the militants were wearing suicide vests, clearly indicating they had not come to take hostages. “If they wanted to take hostages, they would have made some demand,” he said, adding the militants were not only armed to the teeth, but also stocked with rations.

When the militants opened fire, panicked children tried to flee through the auditorium’s two exits. Maj Gen Bajwa said the army troops who entered the building to take on the gunmen saw children lying on the blood-spattered ground.

As a Quick Response Force team rushed to the scene, the militants holed themselves up inside the school’s administration block. “One of the terrorists was killed at the auditorium’s exit gate, while the remaining six were killed in the Special Service Group (SSG) operation inside the administration block,” said Maj Gen Bajwa, adding three of them were targeted through windows.

The militants were carrying explosives, but did not get a chance to assemble improvised explosive devices, he said, adding that army troops have cleared the explosives and handed the building to the school administration.

According to the military spokesperson, 1,099 children and staffers are registered at the school. Around 960 students and staffers were rescued, while the SSG commandos also found 23 children hiding behind the school building after the operation, he said.

Maj Gen Bajwa claimed that they know exactly which militant group orchestrated the attack and where it is based. He, however, said details could not be shared with the media due to operational reasons. Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, who was in Quetta at the time, also cut short his visit and flew to Peshawar to personally monitor the situation, he added.

SSP Operations Najeebur Rehman Bugvi said the militants donning military fatigues had come in a Suzuki van which was set aflame when they reached the school. “They were armed with automatic rifles, hand grenades as well as suicide vests,” he told The Express Tribune before Maj Gen Bajwa’s briefing.

Initially, the SSG commandos and police elite force personnel had launched a combined operation, but the different coloured uniforms only caused confusion so the operation was called off and the second one was launched by SSG commandos around 3:30pm and lasted till 5:30pm.

The dead and injured children were taken to the Combined Military Hospital and the Lady Reading Hospital. The corridors of the CMH were lined with dead students, their green-and-yellow school uniform ties peeping out of the white body bags. The dead and injured students were 10 to 20 years old, according to medics.

The gunmen, who several students said communicated with each other in a foreign language, possibly Arabic, managed to slip past the school’s tight security because at least some of them were wearing Pakistani military uniforms, some witnesses said.

Warsak Road saw a flurry of activity throughout the day as parents, brothers and sisters searched frantically for their loved ones. “He is nowhere. My son has probably been made hostage,” said Saleem as he stood outside the school building surrounded by a dozens of army and police personnel. “May God destroy these terrorists who are settling their scores by killing our innocent children,” he said, crying and praying for the safety of his child.

Osama Bashir, a student of grade eight, must know of his mother’s state even before he saw her. “I told mama on the phone I am safe, but I have been hit by a bullet in the chest,” he said lying in a bed at Lady Reading Hospital. “They shot my friends, some of them in the face.”

The entire nation was shocked by the scale of the massacre and the loss of so many young lives. The attack recalled the 2004 siege of a school in Russia’s Beslan school siege by Chechen militants which ended in the death of more than 330 people, half of them children.

Source : The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2014.

 

132 children killed in Peshawar school attack

A student cries on a man’s shoulder, after he was rescued from the Army Public School that was attacked by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, December 16, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

At least 141 people, including 132 children and nine staff members of the school, were killed when unidentified armed men opened fire on an army-run school in Peshawar on Tuesday.

The Army Public School is located on Warsak Road near Army Housing Colony and a medical school.

Key developments: 

  • Seven militants killed in security operation, says DG ISPR Asim Bajwa 
  • Nation to observe three-day mourning, announced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Peshawar
  • World leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Indian premier Narendra Modi, express grief over loss of innocent lives
  • Pakistan Army decides to take immediate action against militants in Khyber Agency 
  • PTI chief Imran Khan has called off the December 18 countrywide shutdown, while negotiations with the government have also been postponed 
  • Afghan Taliban condemned the attack 

10:31am

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan has left his residence in Bani Gala, Islamabad and is on his way to Peshawar to attend the APC, Express News reports.

10:03am

Schools all over India observe a two-minute silence and hold special prayers to remember the young victims of the ghastly terror attack on Peshawar school,

10:02am

“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,” Talat Masood, a retired general and security analyst, told AFP.

9:53am

Funeral prayer in absentia is offered for the victims at the Corps Headquarters in Peshawar, Express News reports.

Army chief Raheel Sharif, ISI chief Rizwan Akhtar, DG ISPR Asim Bajwa, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and K-P Governor Sardar Mehtab Abbasi can be seen in the front row.

9:40am

President of the United States Barack Obama telephones Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, assuring him that the US stands with Pakistan in this time of grief, Express News reports.

9:30am

Country begins three days of mourning Wednesday for the 132 children and nine school staff massacred by the Taliban in the country’s deadliest ever terror attack, as the world unites in revulsion.

The 141 people were killed when insurgents stormed the army-run school systematically went from room to room, shooting children during an eight-hour killing spree.

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

3:50am 

It is our 9/11. It’s an attack on Pakistan’s future, its young sons and daughters.

The mass murder at Peshawar’s Army Public School and College is a manifestation of the most barbaric face of the Taliban insurgency which has been plaguing the country for more than a decade.

3:20am

3:15am

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif on Tuesday said the terrorist attack on innocent students in Peshawar showed that the terrorists were not only enemies of Pakistan but enemies of the humanity too.

2:30am

After militants slaughtered 132 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar on Tuesday, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told CNN that the government will not back off from the war against militants.

2:25am

Here is the list of injured and dead who were brought to Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar

2:00am

The K-P government has announced that all government and private educational institutes will be closed for three days after the brutal militant attack on the Army Public School.

12:31am 

The Afghanistan Taliban have condemned an attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a school killed 141 people on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

“The intentional killing of innocent people, children and women are against the basics of Islam and this criteria has to be considered by every Islamic party and government,” Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

12:05am

Iftikhar mourns his son Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student killed in Peshawar school attack. PHOTO: REUTERS

11:30pm

Imran Khan condemns TTP for killing innocent students in Peshawar.

10:54pm

Army commandos leave the school after the military operation. PHOTO: AFP

10:42pm

The map below shows location of the school attacked by TTP militants.

10:39pm

Indian PM Narendra Modi telephones Nawaz Sharif, says India stands firmly with Pakistan in fight against terror.

10:35pm

As bullets flew in the Army Public school in Peshawar on Tuesday, a grade eight student sat with a bullet in his chest and consoled his mother on the phone that he was all right, and unhurt.

The student, Osama, told The Express Tribune that his parents could not reach him, since they lived on Warsak Road, which had been blocked for all kinds of traffic. So he talked to them on the phone while avoiding detection from the militants.

“I told mama on the phone that I am safe and not hit, but I had received a bullet right in the chest.”

9:56pm

Pakistan Army is detonating explosives recovered from the militants in the school, our correspondent Riaz Ahmed reports.

9:51pm

Imran Khan will attend the All Parties Conference called by the PM Nawaz at the Governor House in Peshawar on Wednesday, Express News reports.

PTI chief confirmed this on Twitter.

9:20pm

“COAS General Raheel Sharif has personally monitored the army rescue operation,” says Asim Bajwa.

9:11pm

India cancels parliamentary dinner in the wake of the Peshawar school attack.

8:47pm

132 children, nine staff members of the school killed in the Taliban attack, says DG ISPR Asim Bajwa.

“1099 students and staff registered in school… 960 were rescued after the army operation,” he says.

Three terrorists were snipped through the windows, while three of them were killed in the administrative block, adds Bajwa.

“One militant was shot at the door of the auditorium.”

Express News screen grab of DG ISPR Asim Bajwa briefing the media.

8:38pm

Cinepax cinemas across the country will remain closed on Wednesday, officials tell The Express Tribune.

8:33pm

Karachi Stock Exchange benchmark index fell sharply after the school attack.

KSE-100 Index dropped 2.57% to close at 30,876 points, which constitutes the biggest drop in the benchmark index in four months.

7:49pm

A man lights candles to mourn the victims from the Army Public School in Peshawar. PHOTO: REUTERS

7:38pm

US President Barack Obama denounces Peshawar school attack, AFP reports.

“By targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once again shown their depravity,” he said.

“We stand with the people of Pakistan, and reiterate the commitment of the United States to support the government of Pakistan in its efforts to combat terrorism and extremism and to promote peace and stability in the region.”

7:34pm

To pay respect to the children lost in the Peshawar school attack, several notable Pakistani musicians have cancelled their performances which were scheduled to take place on Tuesday, December 16.

7:12pm

The Taliban raid on the army-run school in Peshawar has ended, police said Tuesday, with all six attackers dead.

“The combat operation is over, the security personnel are carrying out clearance operation and hopefully they will clear the building in a while,” police official Abdullah Khan told AFP.

“Dead bodies of six terrorists have been found in the building.”

Senior police official Shafqat Malik confirmed the combat phase of the response was over, while chief army spokesman General Asim Bajwa said on Twitter that the operation was “closing up”.

Bajwa said explosive devices planted in school buildings by the militants were slowing clearance efforts.

Special forces soldiers had rescued more than a dozen staff and students, Bajwa said.

7:06pm

The death toll has now been raised to 135, with 114 people injured, Health Secretary Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mustaq Jadoon tells the APPnews agency.

6:54pm

PM Nawaz has reached Corps Headquarters Peshawar, where he is being briefed on the army’s search and clearance operations, our correspondent Abdul Manan reports.

COAS General Raheel Sharif and corps commander Peshawar are also present.

6:45pm

In the wake of the Peshawar attack, Atrium Cinemas in Karachi and Centaurus Cineplex in Islamabad will remain shut on Wednesday, owner of both the cinemas, Nadeem Mandviwalla tells The Express Tribune.

Meanwhile, Cinepax network of cinemas across Pakistan is yet to make an official announcement about tomorrow’s show. So far, their shows are as per schedule, an official of Cinepax Cinemas tells the The Express Tribune.

6:42pm

In response to the attack in Peshawar, Army decides to take immediate action against militants in Khyber Agency, says ISPR chief.

6:40pm

6:34pm

Army says operations “closing up”

6:20pm

PTI chairperson Imran Khan, who visited LRH to meet the victims, says he fails to comprehend how can anyone attack children.

“If you have a disagreement, fight with men, not innocent children,” he says.

“We all – provincial, federal governments and army – need to agree on how to win this war against terrorists,” he requests.

Imran commends all the volunteers who came forward to donate blood.

“We will all offer funeral prayers for the victims in Islamabad tomorrow.”

The PTI chief adds that he assured PM Nawaz of his complete assistance in fighting terrorism from day one.

“No one can blame us for not standing with the government in its fight against terrorists. We have always supported the government,” he says.

6:09pm

Malala ‘heartbroken’. PHOTO: AFP

“I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us. Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this,” Malala said in a statement.

“I condemn these atrocious and cowardly acts and stand united with the government and armed forces of Pakistan whose efforts so far to address this horrific event are commendable.”

6:03pm

Traders associations across Pakistan have announced to observe a day of mourning.

Businesses will remain closed in Peshawar on Wednesday.

5:51pm

ANP leader Haji Adeel says military operation against militants should have been done years ago.

“…every single element of the state machinery should solely be concentrated on making sure military targets are achieved with least damage,” he says.

PPP leader Shireen Rehman says government should have taken action against militants in all cities and towns in addition to Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan.

“There should be no confusion on who the enemy is,” she adds.

5:48pm

Pakistani soldiers cordon off the site of the attack. PHOTO: AFP

5:39pm

ISPR says SSG commandos have rescued seven staff members and four school teachers from the building where the search and clearance operations are still underway.

5:34pm

Balochistan CM Abdul Malik Baloch announces three days of mourning in the province.

Punjab Assembly also passes a resolution against the attack, and announces three days of mourning.

5:32pm

PTI leader Shaukat Yousufzai says K-P government had taken measures to thwart attacks in response to Zarb-e-Azb operation.

He, however, says militants freely move in and out of Pakistan through Fata, making it difficult to control the situation.

Yousufzai admits today’s attack was a matter of serious security lapse but adds that the K-P government cannot be solely blamed for it.

“All politicians should stand together and support the armed forces which are fighting against terrorists.”

5:22pm

DG ISPR says six militants have been killed as security forces clear the school building.

Commandos are facing difficulty in clearing the building because of explosives planted by militants inside the school.

5:17pm

PM Nawaz Sharif has convened an emergency meeting of all national parliamentary parties in Peshawar on Wednesday, 11:30am at the Governor House, our correspondent Abdul Manan reports.

According to the PM House, Information Minister Parvaiz Rasheed and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will convey PM’s request to individual parliamentary leaders.

5:13pm

At least 130 people, most of them children, have been killed in the attack, AFP reports.

5:10pm

According to ISPR, SSG commandos have rescued two more children, and two teachers from the building.

Of the four school blocks that were earlier held by militants, three have been cleared.

5:06pm

Sounds of explosions and firing continue to echo in the area as more security personnel arrive to take part in the operation.

5:04pm

Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif assures K-P CM of complete assistance in providing relief to the injured and the families of the deceased.

4:39pm

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expresses sorrow over the Peshawar school attack.

4:36pm

Watch a video of a mother in search of her children during the siege in Peshawar.

4:25pm

Devastating accounts have come forth from the tragic incident in which witnesses described how gunmen went from classroom to classroom, shooting children, after a huge blast shook the Army Public School in Peshawar today.

 

4:22pm

Our correspondent Umar Farooq reports from Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.

4:11pm

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while addressing the media in Peshawar, says “We will continue our struggle to completely eradicate militancy.”

“We will work together with Afghanistan to work towards ending militance,” the premier says.

“Operation Zarb-e-Azb is progressing successfully, and the country should pray for and support the operation,” says Nawaz.

Further, the PM says that there should be no differences between the public.

“We should unite and tackle terrorism,” the prime minister says.

4:10pm

Fifth  militant has been killed, confirms ISPR.

4:17pm

A man carries a student, who was injured during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, after he received treatment at a hospital in Peshawar. PHOTO: REUTERS

4:06pm

The protection of life and property is the responsibility of the federal and provincial governments. And because the school is a central location with sensitive installations nearby, it reflects on the total collapse of the government, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq says while speaking to the media.

4:04pm

Malala Yousafzai’s co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Kailash Sathyarthi comments on today’s attack.

4:00pm

Meanwhile, read our correspondent Riaz Ahmed’s report from October on how easy it for militants to procure security forces’ uniforms.

3:49pm

An army helicopter flies over the Army Public School that in under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, December 16, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

3:46pm

3:44pm

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan has announced to postpone the December 18 countrywide shutdown in lieu of the attack in Peshawar.

He strongly condemned the attack on the school while speaking to the media.

“There is no justification for this,” he says.

3:40pm

India has condemned a deadly attack by Taliban militants on an army-run school in Peshawar.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the attack exposed the “real face of terrorism”.

“I strongly condemn the terrorist attack on a school at Peshawar,” he tweeted.

“This dastardly & inhuman attack exposes the real face of terrorism. My heart goes out to the families of those children who got killed by the terrorists in Peshawar.”

3:36pm

Below is a map showing the location of the school which is currently under attack by TTP militants.

3:22pm

With the tragic incident escalating, the death toll has now risen to over 120, according to Express News.

Further, two fresh blasts have been heard from within the vicinity and firing is still going on.

3:18pm

Our correspondent Riaz Ahmad gives us a bone-chilling account of parents looking for their children at Lady Reading Hospital amid the chaos in Peshawar.

3:13pm

Watch footage of the scenes at hospitals following the devastating attack.

3:10pm

So far, at least 85 students have reached CMH hospital from the Government Commerce College to donate blood to the injured, according to our correspondent Umer Farooq.

2:57pm

Jammatud Dawa’s Hafiz Saeed while speaking to Express Newscondemns the tragic attack on the school in Peshawar.

“This is a huge incident and is a blatant act of terrorism,” Saeed says.

2:47pm

Army Chief Raheel Sharif leaves for Peshawar from Quetta, while DG ISPR Asim Bajwa is already present in the city.

2:38pm

There are conflicting reports on the number of deaths with Express News reporting 104 children are dead, while AFP is saying 95 people have been killed in total.

2:34pm

PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal calls on all the leaders to put differences aside and work together to recreate the national narrative.

“We are in a state of war and we can only fight our enemies with unity,” he stresses.

2:30pm

PAT chief Tahirul Qadri expresses sorrow over the loss of precious lives.

2:25pm

Prime Minister Nawaz says this is a national crisis. “I will monitor the operation personally from Peshawar,” he says.

Security is put on high alert in Islamabad after the attack on school in Peshawar, while K-P government announces three days of mourning.

2:10pm

Condemning the attack, K-P CM says there are 24 bodies at LRH and 60 at CMH.

“There are 43 injured admitted to LRH and 40 to CMH,” he adds.

He says rescue operation is still going on and most parts of the school building have been cleared except for the principal’s room and another area.

“Around 10 men wearing FC uniform entered the building; security personnel killed two while another blew himself up,” he says.

2:08pm

As emergency has been declared at the LRH, here is a snapshot of the situation how nurses at this hospital deal with immense adversity.

2:04pm

PTI leader Jahangir Tareen says this is a national tragedy and everyone will work together to make sure the issue is addressed in the best possible way.

“There can never be a justification for such a barbaric act,” he says, condemning the attack in the strongest term.

1:59pm

Our correspondent Riaz Ahmad reports that at least 27 bodies are present in Lady Reading Hospital at the moment.

SSP Operation Najibur Rehman says the rescue operation is still underway.

1:49pm

K-P information minister says at least five attackers, wearing army uniform, entered the school building from the backside of the building.

1:43pm

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, while speaking to Express News, says the government will not waver from its commitment to eradicate terrorism despite such coward attacks.

“We will not rest until the scourge of terrorism is completely eliminated,” he says.

1:24pm

Rescue operation is still in progress inside the school. The building has been badly damaged because of the firing and explosion.

Our correspondent Riaz Ahmad reports that 25 more ambulances have been called in to assist with the rescue work.

A soldier takes position above a road near the school that is under attack. PHOTO: REUTERS

1:20pm

Officials tell AFP that at least 20 people are killed in the attack.

At least 15 bodies are in Lady Reading Hospital, of whom most are students and one is a female teacher, our correspondent Riaz Ahmad reports.

1:16pm

Lady Reading Hospital spokesperson says 18 people have been killed and 36 are injured.

Most of the injured students were shot in their legs and arms.

Security around the hospital has also been beefed up.

Ambulances drive away from the school that is under attack by gunmen in Peshawar, December 16, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

1:08pm

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gives strict instructions to concerned officials to rescue students and teachers safely.

The premier further instructs Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to personally monitor the rescue operation in Peshawar.

12:56pm

K-P Health Minister Shahram Tarkai says emergency has been declared in four major hospitals of the city.

He says 12 students have been killed while 36 were injured. All of the injured students are boys.

One female teacher was also killed while two others were injured.

The health minister says another body brought to the hospital is of a soldier.

12:50pm

Rescue operation by troops underway as exchange of fire continues, ISPR reports.

A large number of students and staff have been evacuated.

Further, according to reports, some children and teachers have been killed by the militants.

12:48pm

Lady Reading Hospital spokesperson says 10 people have been killed while 30 are injured.

12:46pm

ANP leader Zahid Khan, while speaking to Express News, calls it a barbaric attack and says these attackers follow no religion.

12:34pm

Lady Reading Hospital, where many injured have been taken, has asked for blood donation.

12:32pm

Eyewitnesses say five to six men entered the building and opened fire. Students hid under their desks and later moved to a safer location from where they were rescued by security officials.

12:29pm

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemns the attack and says those behind the heinous act will not be spared.

12:24pm

Lady Reading Hospital spokesperson confirms the number of casualties.

Security sources say a large number of students and teacher have been evacuated, while the search operation is in progress.

12:21pm

Emergency has been declared at Lady Reading Hospital.

PTI chief Imran Khan condemns the attack.

12:18pm

Security officials say there are at least 6 attackers inside the building.

12:15pm

An explosion was heard from inside the school building.

The attackers reportedly have suicide jackets with them.

12:12pm

Two helicopters are constantly monitoring the situation, while army tankers are also seen in the area.

At least 15 ambulances are in the area to respond to any emergency.

12:08pm

Militant outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for attack.

“Our people successfully entered the army school in Peshawar this morning. We are giving them direct instructions to not harm minors,” TTP spokesperson Muhammad Khorasani told The Express Tribune.

“Operation Zarb-e-Azb and Operation Khyber-I forced us to take such an extreme step,” he said.

11:55am

At least 15 students have been rescued from the building while many are reportedly inside it. The injured were shifted to Combined Military Hospital.

11:46am

As per initial details, around five to six gunmen mounted this attack and tried to enter the school. The attackers were wearing uniform of armed forces.

Security forces have cordoned off the school and entered the building. Officials are also monitoring the situation from a helicopter.

Attackers and security personnel also exchanged fire near the school.

Source,The Express Tribune, Published: December 16, 2014

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