Pakistan mourns 148 killed in Taliban school massacre

Children’s shoes, notepads and spectacles remained scattered amid pools of blood on Wednesday, the walls of the school auditorium pockmarked with bullet holes. Outside, soldiers patrolled from the rooftops.
People carry the coffin of a male student, who was killed in Tuesday's attack on the Army Public School, during his funeral in Peshawar on December 17. Fayaz Aziz/Reuters
People carry the coffin of a male student, who was killed in Tuesday's attack on the Army Public School, during his funeral in Peshawar on December 17. Fayaz Aziz/Reuters
PESHAWAR // Pakistan was mourning the deaths of 148 people, including 132 children, on Wednesday, following a Taliban school massacre that has put the government under new pressure to combat militancy.

The death toll had risen overnight on Tuesday from 141.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed Tuesday’s terror attack — the deadliest in Pakistan’s history — in which heavily armed militants rampaged through an army-run school, killing indiscriminately.

Across the country on Wednesday, many schools were closed as a mark of respect, while others held special prayers for those killed in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Colleges, offices and markets were also closed across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which has suffered the worst of the TTP’s bloody seven-year insurgency.

Funerals were held for victims of the massacre, many of whose bodies were pulled from the school, still wearing their blood-drenched green uniforms.

The worst of the bloodshed took place in a large auditorium where 200 teenage students were attending a lecture on basic first aid. Around 100 bodies were found there, the army said.

Children’s shoes, notepads and spectacles remained scattered amid pools of blood on Wednesday, the walls of the auditorium pockmarked with bullet holes. Outside, soldiers patrolled from the rooftops.

Mohammad Hilal was in the auditorium when he heard a loud bang. He remembers falling to the floor with a gunshot wound as other students dropped dead around him.

“[The gunman] kept firing for what seemed like two or three minutes and then left,” the 14-year-old said from a bed in the Lady Reading Hospital, where he was recovering from three gunshot wounds to the leg and one in his arm. “Then he came back after a minute or two and started firing on the students still standing.”

All seven attackers entered through the auditorium and shot down on students from the stage, military spokesman Asim Bajwa said.

“Most children died when they tried to run toward the doors,” Mr Bajwa added.

After killing students in the auditorium, the attackers moved to the administrative offices. They eventually detonated suicide vests after security forces surrounded them.

Blood and bullet holes also marked the walls of a staff room, where cabinet doors remained thrown open, furniture splintered, windows broken and doors knocked off their frames. Thirteen employees of the Army Public School were also among the dead.

The principal’s office was completely black, with reports suggesting that she had been burnt by the attackers while trying to stop them from killing children.

The streets around the school were quiet on Wednesday. Police vehicles with mounted guns were parked at major intersections, and officers with AK-47 rifles patrolled the streets.

Crowds thronged the Lady Reading Hospital on Tuesday night, looking at lists of the dead children that hung in the lobby. Most were 14.

Doctors and nurses urged frantic parents to allow them to treat the patients in the main rooms. Family members wept outside of the emergency room.

Tuesday’s attack brought international condemnation as well as promises of a decisive crackdown on militants from political and military leaders.

Following a meeting of major political leaders in Peshawar, prime minister Nawaz Sharif said the leaders “vowed to continue this war with all our strength until elimination of the last terrorist from this land”.

Mr Sharif also announced that a six-year moratorium on the death penalty would be lifted for those convicted of terror offences.

Meanwhile, Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan called off a four-month long protest movement to topple the government, saying it was the “need of the hour”.

“We are backing off right now from our protest because it is [the] need of the hour. I thank the women, the children, the youth and everyone for participating in our movement,” he said to supporters outside parliament.

Mr Khan’s announcement came just a day ahead of a planned countrywide shutdown intended to force the prime minister to resign. Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party are also calling for an impartial inquiry into allegations of fraud in the 2013 election.

Across the border in India, prime minister Narendra Modi also put aside acrimony with the Pakistani government, asking schools to observe a two minutes’ silence to honour the dead.

* Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg

Published: December 17, 2014 04:00 AM

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