PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Members of the Pakistani Islamic Taliban opened fire on a military school on Tuesday, killing over 140 people—mostly children.
The attack was carried out by members of Tahreek-e-Taliban, a group that seeks to overthrow the Pakistani government and create an Islamic state. A spokesman for the organization told reporters that they targeted the school in response to Army operations as “[h]undreds of Taliban fighters are thought to have died in a recent military offensive in North Waziristan and the nearby Khyber area.”
Nine members of the Islamic group arrived at the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar on Tuesday morning with explosives strapped to their bodies. After scaling a wall and sneaking through a back door, they began entering classrooms and shooting randomly at students, as well as their teachers. Over 1,000 children attend the school, which is described more as a compound because of its high security measures.
“Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids,” Pakistani military spokesman Asim Bajwa told reporters. “That’s what they did.”
Members of the Pakistani Army arrived on the scene minutes later and exchanged gunfire with the Taliban, a standoff that continued over a period of several hours. Later today, the Army declared the matter to be officially over, stating that all nine assailants were dead. It is not clear as to whether they were killed by military force or if they blew themselves up with the explosives.
The incident left 132 children dead, as well as nine staff members. An additional 121 children and three staff members were injured and taken to a local hospital. Reports states that some children tried to run and hide during the assault and others played dead while their classmates lay bloodied on the floor.
“One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain,” Shahrukh Khan, 15, who was injured in the attack, told Reuters. “One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound. All around me, my friends were lying injured and dead.”
“We were in the education hall when militants barged in, shooting,” another student, only identified as Zeeshan, recalled. “Our instructor asked us to duck and lay down and then I saw militants walking past rows of students shooting them in the head.”
Photographs and video footage out of Peshawar show caskets being brought to the Combined Military Hospital and Lady Reading to hold the dead, and family members carrying their loved ones through the streets in caskets while crowds follow, wailing.
“My son was in uniform in the morning. He is in a casket now,” mourned Tahir Ali, who lost his 14-year-old son Abdullah in the shooting. “My son was my dream. My dream has been killed.”
Lady Reading Hospital published a list of the dead, although many students have yet to be identified. Parents scrambled to read the list to learn whether or not their child was dead or alive.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has dubbed the terrorist attack as being a “national tragedy.”
“By targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once again shown their depravity,” American President Barack Obama stated. “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.”