Peshawar: About 140 people, nearly all of them school children, were massacred on Tuesday when heavily armed Taliban suicide bombers stormed a Pakistan army-run school here, firing indiscriminately, leaving another 245 injured.
Dressed in para-military Frontier Corps uniforms, the six Arabic-speaking terrorists entered the Army Public School on Warsak Road around 10 AM (local time) and went from classroom to classroom shooting innocent children in one of the most gruesome terror attacks anywhere.
Before the Taliban attackers were eliminated tonight, they had killed nearly 140 people, nearly all of them students except a female school teacher and a watchman.
The death toll is likely to go up given the huge number of injured, some of them critically, senior officials in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province said.
Earlier, reports had put the death toll at 160 but later it was scaled down.
During the over eight-hour standoff, the terrorists also took several hostages, including teachers and the principal of the school, and used them as human shield during the assault.
All six militants died in the attack with four of them blowing themselves up.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, the bloodiest in recent years since the 2008 suicide bombing in Karachi in which 150 people were killed.
The Taliban spokesman claimed that its 6 suicide bombers attacked the army school, saying it was a revenge for the military's operation against militants in the North Waziristan tribal area close to Peshawar.
"We want them to feel our pain," the spokesman said.
World leaders united in condemning the attack as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif termed it a "national tragedy" and chaired a security meeting in Peshawar where he was briefed about the attack and the operation.
Sharif reiterated that military operation 'Zarb-e-Azab' to flush out terrorists from the country's tribal belt will continue.
"It's a sheer act of cowardice...The country should unite to combat terrorism," he added.
A three-day nationwide mourning has been announced in Pakistan. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif also reached Peshawar to monitor the situation.
One rescued student told reporters that the attackers had long beards and they were wearing 'shalwar kamiz'. He said they were speaking Arabic and looked like foreigners.
The Taliban attack today brought back chilling memories
of the 2004 incident in Beslan in North Ossetia, Russia, when at least 32 Chechen rebels stormed a school and took more than 1,000 hostages, majority of them children. Over 330 people, mostly children, were killed in that assault.
About 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside the Peshawar school at the start of the attack, which appeared to be the worst in the country since the 2008 suicide bombing in the port city of Karachi killed 150 people.
The attack ended after all the six Taliban attackers were eliminated and a clean up operation was being undertaken.
Mushtaq Ghani, provincial information minister, said the militants entered through a graveyard which is adjacent to the school.
The school is close to Saint Mary High School which has also been under threat since the last couple of days.
A heavy contingent of police and security forces blocked the roads leading to the school, taking control of the entire area.
The army had launched the massive military operation 'Zarb-e-Azb' in June following a brazen militant attack on Karachi's international airport and the failure of peace talks between the government and the Taliban negotiators.
The military has said more than 1,300 militants have been killed during the operation in North Waziristan and adjacent tribal region and it will continue till militancy was completely wiped out of Pakistan.
Opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, whose party rules Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, termed the attack as an act of "barbarism".
In the wake of the attack, Khan postponed his plan to shut down the entire country that was planned for December 18.
Shagufta, who lives near the school, told Geo TV that she heard two explosions, a smaller one followed by a huge bang.
A student who identified himself as Shuja told Samaa TV that they were taking examination when firing started.
They were told by the teacher to lie down on the floor.
He said they remained on floor for about one hour when army soldiers came and told them to go out.
Several students escaped through the back gate. One of students who escaped said that the fourth period was in progress when they heard firing.
"First we didn't know what has happened. But late an army officer told us to escape through back gate," he said.
A welcome ceremony planned in Lahore for the hockey team which won silver medal in the champion trophy in India was postponed in the wake of the attack.
Pakistan Hockey Federation said that the ceremony would be held at a future suitable time.
Defence minister Khawaja Asif said in a statement, "We are deeply fragmented today as a nation. For the sake of the children martyred today and our children fighting the enemy for our existence, we must have one message for the enemy (that) we shall overcome inshallah and rid our land of this scourge. Zarb-e-Azb to continue with full force and (our) Armed forces remain undeterred."