A Taliban attack on a Pakistani school leaves scores of children dead, 121 more injured and several staff killed, according to estimates from the Pakistan army.
Around 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside the school when the gunmen attacked.
Army spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa described how the attackers came into the school wearing suicide jackets in a “well-organised plan”.
“They entered the auditorium where a function was going on,” he said. “There is strong possibility that they had information about the function.They had brought weapons for a long standoff.”
This is the world’s loss US Secretary of State John Kerry
At least three explosions were heard inside the high school at the height of the massacre.
As helicopters rumbled overhead, police struggled to hold back distraught parents trying to break past security to get into the school.
Special forces shot dead three of the militants inside the school, which has been handed back to management after the school had been cleared and the end of the operation, Bajwa said.
The attackers had no plan to hold the children hostage as they killed the students, and the army since confirmed that all nine insurgents had been killed in their operation, he added.
Bajwa said 132 children died in the attack and 121 more were left injured, while three staff members from the school were also injured.
Conflicting accounts have emerged of the number of people killed in the attack, as well as the nature of the siege.
Shireen Mazari, leader of Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf party, said a total of 146 people were killed, including nearly 140 children, while 113 people including children were injured in the attack.
Najiulla Khattak, a spokesman for the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtuinkhwa province Pervez Khattak, said earlier that 126 people were killed.
The chief minister’s director of information Bahramand Khan said that the number killed included more than 100 children, while a further 122 people were injured during the attack. He added that the figures were expected to rise.
Meanwhie, provincial health minister Shahram Khan told local television that a female teacher and a soldier were among those also killed. Speaking earlier, the chief minister said that one Taliban bomber blew himself up.
We will target every institution linked to the army unless they stop operations Taliban spokesman
The military said that nine Taliban gunmen were killed during a nine-hour battle. The Taliban had claimed to only have six militants involved in the attack but there were conflicting eyewitness reports of more.
According to Reuters, a military source said the operation was complete on Tuesday afternoon (GMT), adding that seven army personnel, including two officers, were wounded in the fighting.
Ebad, a student at the school, said he held his friend as he died after being shot during the attack. He said the attack began at 10:30am local time, (5:30am GMT) while an army colonel was giving a demonstration on first aid in the school’s auditorium.
“Suddenly firing started outside and the gunmen entered the auditorium and started firing,” he told Channel 4 News. “They killed many students inside the auditorium, I saw 40 to 50 die in front of me. They also fired at the colonel. They also denoted bombs.
“Then, teacher took us to the classrooms. Firing was continuing, I saw many bodies and injured lying in and outside of auditorium.
“One of my friends died when I was holding him in my hands. He had received three bullets in the legs, back, eyes and mouth. The gunmen were many and I saw four to five of them. They were in black salwar kameez.”
We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started School bus driver
But Shaukat Yousafzai, a member of the ruling party of the provincial assembly, said the militants were wearing military uniform and entered the school at the back.
The Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew into Peshawar to personally monitor the operation, his office in Islamabad said.
“I can’t stay back in Islamabad. This is a national tragedy unleashed by savages. These were my kids. This is my loss. This is the nation’s loss. I am leaving for Peshawar now and I will supervise this operation myself,” he said.
Army chief General Raheel Sharif was also proceeding to Peshawar to review the situation, army spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said.
The militants entered the school on Tuesday, taking the “extreme step” in reaction to the Pakistani army’s operations in tribal regions and “extra-judicial killings” of Taliban detainees, a Taliban spokesman said.
Reuters reported heavy gunfire from inside the school as soldiers surrounded it on Tuesday morning (local time). Helicopters swooped overhead and a fleet of ambulances ferried wounded children to hospital.
Hospital official Ejaz Khan said many of the victims of the fighting were in the operation theatre in “critical condition, undergoing treatment”.
“We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers,” said Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver.
The perpetrators must be brought to justice US Secretary of State John Kerry
A teacher said that the attackers targeted the school while exams were taking place. “After half an hour of the attack, the army came and sealed the school,” a teacher told a television channel outside the besieged school.
“We were in the examination hall when the attack took place. Now the army men are clearing the classes one by one,” he told Reuters.
Speaking while the attack was under way, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani said: “We will take more such extreme steps if the army did not stop operation and the killing of our prisoners.”
He claimed that there were suicide bombers in the school but said that the Taliban personnel had been ordered not to harm the children. However, scores of children were reported to be among the dead, and the Pakistani army said that children had been killed by the Taliban fighters during the attack.
“The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had taken this extreme step to take to target the army school to revenge. We will target every institution linked to the army unless they stop operations and the extra-judicial killing of our detainees,” the Taliban’s spokesman said.
“Now, families of the security forces should also feel the pain like our people. Our detainees are being killed and their bodies are thrown on roads,” Khorsani said.
He said the attack was in reaction to the ongoing military operations in North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agency.
President Barack Obama called it a “heinous attack” by terrorists who have “once again shown their depravity”.
He pledged continued support for the Pakistan government’s efforts “to combat terrorism and extremism and to promote peace and stability in the region”.
Secretary of State John Kerry said news of the “brazen” murder was “devastating”.
“This morning, wherever you live, wherever you are, those are our children and this is the world’s loss,” he added.
“This act of terror angers and shakes all people of conscience. The perpetrators must be brought to justice.”