School attack in Pakistan leaves at least 30 dead

by Gregory Tomlin, |
People react outside Bacha Khan University where an attack by militants took place, in Charsadda, northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan in this still image taken from a video January 20, 2016 | REUTERS/Reuters TV

CHARSADDA, Pakistan (Christian Examiner) – Taliban militants have launched a devastating attack on a university in Pakistan, killing at least 30 people and leaving many dozens injured under the cover of a thick fog.

Gunmen scaled the walls of the university and slipped into the open air compound at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, roughly 200 miles west of the country's capital of Islamabad and only 30 miles from Afghanistan, at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 20. They opened fire on the students, shooting both men and women indiscriminately, witnesses said.

Pakistan's security forces responded almost immediately to the scene and killed the four gunmen. Around noon, an official from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said at least 30 people on the campus were dead, but one eyewitness said he had counted at least 50 bodies, many executed with shots to the head.

Ambulances took many of the wounded away for treatment at a local hospital, but the more seriously wounded were transported to Peshawar, the provincial capital, for treatment.

According to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, a commander with the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), Umar Mansoor, said his group was responsible for the attack. Mansoor's group was also responsible for an attack on an army school in Peshawar a little more than one year ago. That attack claimed the lives of 132 children.

The attack, however, might not have been sanctioned by the group's supreme leader. The main spokesman for the Taliban, Mohammad Khurasanik, claimed it was not responsible because the attack was "un-Islamic," perhaps exposing a rift in ideology in the group.

"Youth who are studying in non-military institutions, we consider them as builders of the future nation and we consider their safety and protection our duty," the statement from Khurasanik said.

The conflicting accounts may be the result of the loose-knit alliances characteristic of the TTP, formed in 2007 to oppose the encroachment of government troops from Islamabad in the area. The group reportedly wants to establish an Islamic caliphate over the whole of Pakistan. Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah is said to favor attacks like the one on the school because the schools – vestiges of western influence – are "soft targets."

Since 2008, the TTP has attempted to export its terror. The group claimed responsibility for the failed Times Square car bombing in New York in 2010, according to the National Counterterrorism Center.

Christian leaders in Pakistan today condemned the attack on the school, saying that the young people killed had a right to an education.

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf Mani and Executive Director Cecil Shane Chaudhry, both with the National Commission for Justice and Peace, issued a joint statement calling the attack senseless. They said the event "has caused shock and bereavement in different parts of the country."

"The government of Pakistan is ranked second in the world among the countries with the highest school dropout and an international organization's research shows that only 5 percent of the students reach higher education in Pakistan. It is essential for the government to take the necessary action to provide safety and security to all educational institutions in order to protect the brilliant minds working to shape a better and intellectual Pakistan," they said in the statement.

They also said the Catholic Church stood with the people of Charsadda.

Attacks on schools are becoming more common. In April 2015, Al-Shabaab militants from Somalia attacked Garissa University (which in reality is more like a small teacher's college). They killed 147 students, but before they did they asked which students were Christians. Those who were Christian were executed immediately.