A Taliban attack on an army-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar left 141 people, mostly children, dead in the country’s most violent terrorist strike since at least 2007.
An army operation ended the assault about nine hours after it began yesterday with all seven terrorists dead, military spokesman Asim Bajwa told reporters in Peshawar. More than 121 people were injured and about 960 were rescued, he said.
The attack was in response to the army offensive against Taliban insurgents near the Afghan border that began earlier this year, said Omar Hamid, head of Asia-Pacific country risk at IHS Inc. (IHS) in London. The military will want to retaliate aggressively as the Taliban seeks soft targets such as shopping centers and restaurants linked with the armed forces, he said.
“A lot of the kids that go to this school would have parents in the army who are taking part in the operation,” Hamid said by phone. “It’s an attempt to bring the conflict into the homes of the military, especially in Peshawar.”
Of the fatalities, 132 were students at the school and nine were employees, Bajwa said. Seven soldiers were injured, he said.
Names of the dead were put up at the Lady Reading Hospital, where most of the injured were being treated. Most of those killed were 14 years old, the list showed.
Parents wept outside the emergency room, and lines of ambulances waited by the building to take bodies away after they had been identified.
A father’s scream
On the main road near the school, dozens of parents and families waited in the cold for news about their children. Inamullah, a father, said one of his sons was killed and that he had buried him at 8 p.m. while still awaiting news of his younger son. “At least someone tell me where my son is,” he screamed.
The terrorists fired indiscriminately in the school auditorium during their assault, Bajwa said. They had entered the campus using ladders to climb over a back wall, he said.
They made no demands and had attempted to plant explosives on the school grounds during the attack, he said. All seven perpetrators wore suicide vests, he said.
“These people were not humans; they were monsters,” Bajwa said.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Express Tribune, citing Muhammad Khorasani, a spokesman for the group. The attack was in retaliation for the military’s operation in North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agency, it said.
Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif termed the terrorists “inhuman beasts” and vowed to destroy them in a Twitter posting by military spokesman Bajwa before the end of the attack. Sharif said the military already had begun to retaliate and that 10 air strikes were conducted in the Khyber tribal agency yesterday.
A hospital security guard helps a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Dec. 16, 2014.
“This is a decisive moment in the fight against terrorism,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told reporters in Peshawar before the end of the incident. “The people of Pakistan should unite in this fight. Our resolve will not be weakened by these attacks.” The prime minister isn’t related to the army chief.
The leaders of the nation’s main political parties are due to meet today to discuss their response to the attack.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Sharif to offer his condolences and called on schools across India to observe two minutes of silence as a mark of solidarity with his neighboring nation, he wrote in posts on Twitter.
“India stands firmly with Pakistan in fight against terror,” Modi wrote. “Told PM Sharif we are ready to provide all assistance during this hour of grief.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were among international leaders who condemned the attack. “Wherever you are, those are our children and this is the world’s loss,” Kerry said. Ban said “no cause can justify such brutality, no grievance can excuse such horror.”
Terrorism has killed more than 50,000 people in Pakistan since 2001 and complicated efforts to revive South Asia’s second-biggest economy. Yesterday’s strike was the deadliest on a school since a 2004 assault by Islamic militants in Russia, according to Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore. Some 350 people died then in Beslan, North Ossetia, half of them children.
The attack came a day after a self-proclaimed Islamic cleric from Iran held 17 hostages at a Sydney cafe for 16 hours. He died along with two hostages.
“Due to the momentum of events in Syria and Iraq, the number of groups in Pakistan have become more galvanized,” Gunaratna said. “You can see a trend toward hostage taking and barricade-type situations. It’s a very serious situation.”
Pakistan’s benchmark KSE100 Index (KSE100) yesterday fell 2.6 percent, the most in four months. Oil and Gas Development Co., the nation’s biggest explorer, fell by the limit of 5 percent, the most in three years.
Pakistan’s military started a ground offensive in June to flush out militants from North Waziristan, a tribal region on the Afghanistan border the U.S. has called the “epicenter” of terrorism. That came after successive Taliban attacks on a Pakistan International Airlines Corp. flight and Karachi’s international airport.
After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, North Waziristan became a safe haven for foreign militants like Uzbeks and Turks who fought alongside the fallen Taliban regime. In 2007, militant groups in the area united to form the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, which went on an offensive toward Islamabad.
Nawaz Sharif told Kerry earlier this month that militants were cleared from 80 percent of North Waziristan, state-run Pakistan Radio reported. He called on the international community to better recognize Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Taliban militants claimed responsibility for a suicide blast at the India-Pakistan border last month that killed 53 people. Yesterday’s attack was Pakistan’s deadliest since 2007, when a suicide bomber killed more than 140 people at a political rally for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was later assassinated.
“Whatever happens, terrorism in Pakistan will continue, as it doubtless will in so many Muslim nations,” said Anatol Lieven, the author of “Pakistan: A Hard Country”, in a phone interview from Doha, Qatar. “But it could be reduced, if there were concerted calls now for action.”