Taliban gunmen attacked a university in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday morning, killing 20 people and injuring at least 60 others, and are still on the rampage, according to police and people still trapped in the varsity premises.
Shaukat Yousafzai, a minister in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhaw provincial government, told media the death toll had risen to 20. “I fear the casualties will rise,” he added.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued to local media, claiming they had deployed four suicide attackers for the assault.
“Police told me that firing is continuing on the campus,” Fazal Raheem Marwat, vice chancellor at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, told AFP. “Gunmen have entered the university campus from the southern side,” he said.
A professor of the Chemistry Department succumbed to his injuries after being rescued, rescue officer Mujahid Khan told Newsweek. District Hospital officials, meanwhile confirmed they had already received 50 injured.
“There are male and female staff members and students on the campus,” said the vice chancellor, adding he had been on his way to work when he was informed of the attack. “There was no announced threat but we had already beefed up security at the university.”
Saeed Wazir, the deputy inspector general of police in Charsadda, said security forces had killed two terrorists during the cleanup operation, but three men were still at large. In a post on Twitter, Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa said the militants are currently restricted to two blocks of the university and troops and commandos were participating in the operation. He said four attackers had been killed by security forces and the clean-up operation was still underway.
Sounds of sporadic gunfire can still be heard from the campus, which has been cordoned off by police.
Television images showed female students clutching hands as they fled the university, with traffic blocked on the roads of Charsadda as security forces rushed towards the campus. Hundreds of parents are lined up outside the university hoping for news of their children. There were scenes of panic as several parents were unable to reach anyone due to cellphones being off or otherwise inaccessible.
Sohail Khalid, police chief in Charsadda, told Newsweek there was a poetry recital underway today, and around 600 additional guests were present in the school for the event. The Army has been deployed to the university to launch a rescue operation and several explosions have been heard from within the campus, but there has been no confirmation of the nature of the blasts.
In a statement issued to media, P.M. Nawaz Sharif said he was monitoring the ongoing operation and the measure being taken to overcome the extremists. “We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland,” he said. “The countless sacrifices made by our countrymen will not go in vain.”
Peshawar was the location of Pakistan’s deadliest extremist attack, when Taliban gunmen stormed an Army-run school in December last year and slaughtered more than 150 people, most of them children, in an hours-long siege. The attack on the school prompted a crackdown on extremism in Pakistan, with the military increasing an offensive against militants in the tribal areas where they had previously operated with impunity. (Newsweek Pakistan)