PESHAWAR: Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing 20 students and one soldier, officials said, in the highest-profile militant attack to hit the troubled region in months.
The attack began in the morning hours, with the gunmen entering the school — which has students in grades 1-10 — and shooting at random, said police officer Javed Khan. Army commandos quickly arrived at the scene and exchanged fire with the gunmen, he said.
Outside the school, shooting was initially heard along with one loud bang of unknown origin. Details were sketchy in the unfolding situation and it was unclear what was going on inside and if there were any hostages among the students.
Pakistani television showed soldiers surrounding the area and pushing people back.
Jamil Shah, a spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital, says 20 students were killed, along with one paramilitary soldier. It was not clear whether the soldier was already on the scene when the violence began or was part of the troops who arrived later. The spokesman said that 36 people were also wounded, including two teachers. The rest of the wounded were students, he said.
The Pakistani military said in a statement that a rescue operation was underway and that most of the students and the staff had been evacuated. The school is located on the edge of a military cantonment in Peshawar, but the bulk of the students are civilian.
Later, one of the wounded students, Abdullah Jamal, said that he was with a group of 8th, 9th and 10th graders who were getting first-aid instructions and training with a team of Pakistani army medics when the violence began for real.
When the shooting started, Jamal, who was shot in the leg, said nobody knew what was going on in the first few seconds.
“Then I saw children falling down who were crying and screaming. I also fell down. I learned later that I have got a bullet,” he said, speaking from his hospital bed.
“All the children had bullet wounds. All the children were bleeding,” Jamal added.
Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurasani claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to media, saying that six suicide bombers had carried out the attack in revenge for the killings of Taliban members at the hands of Pakistani authorities.
Peshawar has been the target of frequent militant attacks in the past but has seen a relative lull recently.