21 dead in attack on Pakistan university
A GROUP of Taleban militants stormed Bacha Khan University in Pakistan's Charsadda city yesterday morning, killing at least 21 people and wounding dozens, in the latest outrage to hit the country's volatile north-west region.
The death toll could be higher, as the army cleared out student hostels and classrooms in the city 50km north-east of Peshawar after killing four militants involved in the attack, Reuters reported.
A spokesman for the rescue workers said 21 bodies were recovered, including students, guards, policemen and at least one professor who fired at the gunmen to protect his students.
There were conflicting reports on the number of attackers, with the local Dawn News online newspaper quoting intelligence sources saying eight to 10 terrorists were inside the school.
But only four militants were found killed, the army said, in the attack that came a little over a year after six Taleban gunmen massacred 134 students at a military-run school in Peshawar.
Regional police chief Saeed Wazir told Agence France-Presse that most of the student victims were shot dead at a hostel for males.
The militants, using the cover of thick, wintry fog, scaled the walls of the university in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, before entering the building and opening fire on students and teachers in classrooms and hostels, police said.
Vice-Chancellor Fazal Rahim told reporters that the university teaches more than 3,000 students.
Police, soldiers and special forces swarmed the university from the ground and the air to quell the assault, as television images showed students running for their lives.
The Pakistani Taleban has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Umar Mansoor, a commander in the Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistani (TTP) militant group, told AFP: "Our four suicide attackers carried out the attack on Bacha Khan University today."
However, later in the day, official Taleban spokesman Muhammad Khorasani issued a written statement disassociating the militants from the attack, calling it un-Islamic.
"Youth who are studying in non-military institutions, we consider them as builders of the future nation and we consider their safety and protection our duty," the statement said.
While the Taleban leadership is fractured, Mansoor is believed to remain loyal to central leader Mullah Fazlullah.
The Pakistani Taleban are fighting to topple the government and install a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
They are loosely allied with the Afghan Taleban who ruled most of Afghanistan until they were toppled by a United States-backed military action in 2001.
The 2014 assault in Peshawar was Pakistan's deadliest ever attack and prompted a crackdown on extremism in the country.
After a public outcry, the military intensified an offensive in the tribal areas where extremists had previously operated with impunity.
Said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a statement after yesterday's attack: "We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland."