Heavily-armed Taliban suicide attackers on Wednesday stormed a prestigious university and opened indiscriminate fire on students and teachers, killing at least 25 people and wounding 50 others in Pakistan’s restive northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
The gunmen entered the Bacha KhanUniversity named after iconic leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan alias Baacha Khan in Charsadda, some 50 kilometre southwest of Peshawar, and opened fire on students and teachers in classrooms and hostels, police said.
Blasts and heavy gunfire were heard from inside the campus where a poetic symposium was in progress to mark the death anniversary of Baacha Khan who died on January 20, 1988.
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Party leader and provincial lawmaker Shaukat Yousafzai said that 25 people, including a professor, were killed and around 50 others injured in the terrorist attack on the university.
The injured were shifted to a hospital. An emergency has been declared in all hospitals in the town. All schools have been closed in the area.
Wednesday’s attack comes a little over a year after Taliban militants massacred over 150 people, mostly students, in an assault on an army-run school in Peshawar in December, 2014.
Yousafzai said between four to 10 attackers were involved in the attack.
“Such cowardice attack could not shake the resolve of the government in the fight against terrorism,” he said.
Soon after the attack, a large contingent of security forces rushed to the site and started evacuating students.
Pakistan Army troops also rushed to the university from Peshawar and started operation.
Army spokesman Lt Gen Asim Salim Bajwa tweeted that four terrorists were killed during operation launched by security forces to clear the university.
“Snipers killed two more terrorists on roof top, total terrorist killed so far 4. All buildings and roof top taken over by army,” he tweeted. “Clearance of university block by block continues by army troops.”
Earlier, two terrorists who were firing from inside the university block were shot and killed by the army. The terrorists were contained in two blocks within the university and troops, commandos are participating in the operation.
The army said that operation has been completed and all the terrorists were killed by the security forces.
It said clearance operation is underway in the campus. Army helicopters are hovering over the university.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed the responsibility for the attack and said it was carried out by four attackers.
A spokesman of the militant group called media houses and said it was revenge for those killed by security forces since Peshawar school attack. The attacks would continue, he warned.
University Chancellor Dr Fazal Rahim said there were over 3,000 students inside the university along with an additional 600 guests who had arrived to attend a poetic symposium to mark the death anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif rushed to the spot along with Corps Commander Peshawar and other top military officials where he was briefed about the operation. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan was also present.
Geo TV reported that Professor Hamid Hussain of the chemistry department was also among dead.
“A teacher of the varsity after evacuation said Chairman Chemistry Department Hamid has been martyred by the firing of the militants,” it said, adding the terrorists barged into Hamid’s room and fired at his head, killing him instantly.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the terror attack and directed security agencies to clear the university of terrorists at the earliest.
Prime Minister Sharif is personally monitoring the situation and he is being kept updated about the latest development, his spokesman said.
Sharif expressed sorrow and grief on the loss of precious lives in the terror attack and said those who attacked innocent students and citizens have no religion.
“The government is committed to eliminate them,” he said.
Speaker and Deputy Speaker National Assembly, chief ministers of Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh and Tehrik-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan also condemned the attack.
Provincial Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, who is visiting the United Kingdom, cut short his trip and was returning home. Opposition Awami National Party announced 10-day of mourning.
The terrorists barged into the university where the event was being attended by a large number of students.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa lawmaker Arshad Ali said the attackers entered the university after scaling its walls, Dawn reported.
The families of students have lined up outside the school. Up to 20 ambulances have entered the university to rescue the injured, it said.
Quoting a Rescue 1122 official, Dawn said the boys section of the hostel has been affected and the victims have mostly been hit by bullets. It said an Edhi volunteer has seen the bodies of at least 15 persons.