At least 126 people were killed and more than 122 were wounded on Tuesday when Taliban gunmen stormed a military high school in Peshawar, taking hundreds of innocent students hostage in the bloodiest insurgent attack in the country in many years. The death-toll is expected to rise.
Speaking from his bed in the trauma ward of a Peshawar hospital, Shahrukh Khan, 16, said he and his classmates were in a careers guidance session in the school auditorium when four gunmen wearing paramilitary uniforms burst in. A Reuters journalist at the scene said three explosions and heavy gunfire were heard inside the school as helicopters rumbled overhead.
Claiming responsibility, a hardline Taliban spokesman said, "We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females," He added, "We want them to feel the pain." Earlier this year, the Pakistani military launched a major operation to clear the Taliban strongholds in the North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan frontier.
In the past, the Taliban has airports, military bases and security forces, attacks on civilian targets with no logistical significance have been rare.
The Army Public School is attended by boys and girls from both military and civilian backgrounds. It is part of a series of military-run system of schools offering education from primary to high-school levels. Military officials at the scene said at least six armed men had entered the military-run Army Public School.
The number of students present on campus at the time of the attacks is as yet unclear. According to some reports about 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside. According to other reports, at least 1,500 students were present on campus when they occurred.
The Pakistan Army, whose officers quickly responded to the crisis, engaged in a seven hour blood-battle with millitants, during which they killed all six of them.
"We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers," said Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver. Speaking from hospital bed, a survivor described grizzly scenes of burning bodies, blood splattered interiors, and death everywhere.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quickly condemned the attack and said he was on his way to Peshawar."I can't stay back in Islamabad. This is a national tragedy unleashed by savages. These were my kids," he said in a statement. "This is my loss. This is the nation's loss. I am leaving for Peshawar now and I will supervise this operation myself."
Malala Yousafazai, a 17-year old Pakistani activist who who won the Nobel Peace Prize just days ago wrote, ''Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this.''