Taliban militants vowed more strikes on Pakistan’s army if it doesn’t halt operations along the Afghan border, a threat that comes a day after the group slaughtered young students in one of the country’s deadliest attacks.
As mourners thronged outside the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, the city where the attack took place, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called a meeting that includes top opponent Imran Khan, who has led streets protests to oust him since August. A list of the 148 dead at the hospital showed that most of the 132 students who passed away yesterday were 14 years old.
“At least someone tell me where my son is,” Inamullah, a father, screamed while waiting in the cold for news about his missing child. He had already buried one son and still hadn’t heard whether his other boy was alive.
The carnage may galvanize support for a more stringent campaign to uproot Taliban militants based along the border with Afghanistan who want to impose their version of Islamic law in place of Pakistan’s democracy. Sharif authorized an offensive against them in June to stem violence that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001 and constrained economic growth.
“The nation has sacrificed a lot for the war on terror,” Sharif said in Peshawar today. “Thousands of lives have been lost and economic damage runs into hundreds of billions of dollars. These sacrifices won’t be wasted.”
The government ended a ban today on the death penalty for terror-related cases, Sharif’s spokesman said in a text message. Sharif said earlier politicians and army have complained about terror cases not being decided swiftly.
Parents wept outside the hospital’s emergency room, and lines of ambulances waited by the building to take bodies away after they had been identified. A joint funeral prayer was held at the main army office in Peshawar this morning for those who lost their lives. Army chief General Raheel Sharif participated, according to images broadcast on state-run TV.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, demanded that the army halt an offensive into North Waziristan. It also accused the government of killing Taliban fighters in prison and detaining their family members.
The TTP “was forced to take this extreme step to target this school where children of army officers and soldiers were studying,” it said in an e-mailed statement. “Unless demands are met, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan will be forced to target every institution affiliated with the army or security forces nationwide.”
An army operation ended the assault about nine hours after it began yesterday with all seven terrorists dead, military spokesman Asim Bajwa told reporters in Peshawar. Of the 148 fatalities, 132 were students at the school and 13 were employees, he said, adding that more than 121 people were injured and about 960 were rescued.
Peshawar city remained completely closed and deserted this morning. Most shops remained shut, while anti-terrorist police officers armed with AK-47 rifles patrolled empty streets. Soldiers were seen on the rooftop of the school.
The attackers entered the campus using ladders to climb over a back wall and fired indiscriminately in the school auditorium during their assault, Bajwa said. Strapped with suicide vests, they made no demands and attempted to plant explosives on the school grounds during the strike, he said.
“These people were not humans; they were monsters,” Bajwa said of the militants.