17 Dec 2014

Taliban threatens more attacks as Peshawar funerals begin

Pakistan lifts its moratorium on the death penalty for terrorists as the funerals of the 141 people killed in the Taliban’s attack on a Peshawar school begin.

On Wednesday, the Islamist militants threatened similar attacks in the future, warning ordinary Pakistanis that they would be to blame for their own deaths if they were caught up in assaults on security agencies. The threat comes as many people in the country call for tougher action against the Taliban.

Ahead of a meeting with political leaders in Peshawar, where the massacre that claimed the lives of at least 132 children was carried out on Tuesday, the country’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved hangings, state television reported. According to Pakistani officials, hundreds of terrorists are on death row in Pakistan.

The country woke up to a day of mourning on Wednesday. People around Pakistan lit candles and staged vigils as parents buried their children during mass funerals in and around Peshawar – a volatile city on the edge of Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt.

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Mr Sharif announced three days of mourning but people’s anxiety focused on what the authorities can do to protect them.

Air strikes

The prime minister came to office last year promising to negotiate peace with the Taliban. But those efforts failed this year, weakening his position and prompting the army to launch an air-and-ground operation against insurgents along the Afghan border.

The military staged more air strikes there late on Tuesday in response to the school attack, security sources said, but it was unclear what the target was, Reuters reported.

On Wednesday, it was announced by government spokesman Mohiuddin Wan that the moratorium on carrying out the death penalty was to be lifted. “Black warrants will be issued within a day or two,” he said, referring to execution orders.

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He did not give any details about who might be executed under such orders. The moratorium on the death penalty was imposed in 2008 and only one execution has taken place since then.

There are believed to be more than 8,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan, around 10 percent convicted of offences labelled “terrorism”, Justice Project Pakistan, a legal aid group, told Reuters.

‘Coward attacks’

The prime minister flew into Peshawar to personally monitor the security forces operation against the gunmen. He is due to hold a meeting to discuss a strategy to stop terrorist activities and flush out all terrorists from the country, his office said.

It will also review measures to beef up security for all important buildings, education institutions and to protect life and property of the people.

“I want to convey a message to terrorists that their coward attacks and killing of innocent people cannot shake our determination to wipe out terrorism,” Sharif said in his opening remarks at the conference.

We do not have any other option but will target every security institution, Taliban spokesman

But, speaking on Wednesday, a Taliban spokesman said the attacks would not stop.

Muhammad Khorasani said the group has advised “Muslims to dissociate themselves from all security departments and the institutions otherwise they would be responsible for any harm to them”.

“We do not have any other option but will target every security institution.”

He claimed that the militants “targeted the school and college where the children of army officers and soldiers” were studying to demand an end to the army’s ongoing operations in tribal regions and the “killing of tribesmen and Taliban detainees in encounters.

A day after the attack, one of the worst to hit Pakistan in recent times, the army-run school’s grounds were all-but deserted, with a handful of snipers manning the roofs of its pink brick-and-stone buildings.

Army vehicles and soldiers wearing face masks and carrying automatic rifles were deployed by the entrance.

Grim aftermath

According to Reuters, which toured the school, the floor was slick with blood and walls pockmarked with bullet holes. Classrooms were filled with abandoned school bags, mobile phones and broken chairs.

One wall was smashed where a suicide bomber blew himself up, blood splattered across it. His body parts were piled nearby on a white cloth. The air was thick with the smell of explosives.

A day after the attack, Peshawar appeared subdued and many people were still in shock, the agency reported. More details of the well-organised attack emerged as witnesses came forward with accounts.

“The attackers came around 10:30 a.m. on a pick-up van,” said Issam Uddin, a 25-year-old school bus driver.

“They drove it around the back of the school and set it on fire to block the way. Then they went to Gate 1 and killed a soldier, a gatekeeper and a gardener. Firing began and the first suicide attack took place.”