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Pakistan, December 16, 2014

Taliban Kill More Than 100 Children in Attack on Pakistani School

Original source

The New York Times

Taliban gunmen stormed a school in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing more than 100 people, most of them children, in the worst terrorist attack in Pakistan in years. Hundreds of students were trapped inside the compound as security forces exchanged fire with the gunmen, officials said. The toll of dead and injured remained unclear, but local news media, citing government officials and hospitals, reported 126 dead, more than 100 of them children. The army press office said five attackers had been killed.

The siege began Tuesday morning at around 10 a.m., when at least five heavily armed Taliban gunmen entered Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. According to initial reports, the gunmen opened fire on students and took dozens of hostages. Some students managed to escape the school compound, local media reported.

The gunmen entered after scaling a wall at the rear of the main school building. They opened fire and took dozens of students hostage in the main auditorium of the building, local media said.

Television networks broadcast images of panic-stricken students, wearing green sweaters and blazers, being evacuated from the compound. The wounded were taken to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has left the capital, Islamabad, for Peshawar, saying he would personally supervise the operation against the militants. A state of emergency was declared for Peshawar.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said that it was in retaliation for the military's offensive against militant hide-outs in the North Waziristan tribal region. The Pakistani military carried out an offensive, known as Operation Zarb-e-Azb, in June and has claimed to have cleared 90 percent of the restive region that has long been a redoubt of local and foreign militants.

As news of the attack spread, distraught parents rushed toward the school and to hospitals. The school has been cordoned off by security forces, and there were reports of heavy gunfire as military commandos and troops battled with the militants inside.

By the afternoon, three blocs of the school had been cleared, a military spokesman said. There were unconfirmed news reports that at least three gunmen had been killed, as well as a suicide bomber who had detonated his explosives.

The attack comes at a time of intense political strife in Pakistan. The opposition politician Imran Khan, who controls Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, has been staging protest rallies in major cities. Mr. Khan claims that the general elections of 2013 were rigged and is now demanding a judicial investigation.

Since August, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has carried out protests in the capital against Mr. Sharif and has demanded his resignation. On Monday, Mr. Khan's party paralyzed the eastern city of Lahore by blocking its main roads and protesting outside main government buildings. The party has announced that it will try to shut down the entire country on Thursday. Mr. Sharif has responded by inviting Mr. Khan to the negotiating table.

While the political parties fight it out on the streets, the attack on Tuesday was a grim reminder that militancy remains the most potent threat to the country. The military says that at least 1,800 militants have been killed in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and that the terrorists remain on the run.