CHARSADDA • Pakistan observed a day of national mourning yesterday for the 21 people killed when heavily armed Taleban gunmen stormed a university in the troubled north-west, exposing the failings in a national crackdown on extremism.
Flags were flown at half-mast on all government buildings inside and outside the country, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office said, while a prayer ceremony was held in the capital Islamabad.
Mr Sharif has vowed a "ruthless" response to the massacre and ordered security forces to hunt down those behind Wednesday's attack at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, 30km from the provincial capital Peshawar.
The students were targeted with grenades and automatic weapons.
Armed police officers, some perched on the roofs of buildings, were still deployed at the university campus yesterday, and security forces remained on alert after police foiled a bomb attack at a crowded bus station in Peshawar yesterday morning.
Security forces killed all four gunmen in the university attack before they could detonate their suicide vests, officials said.
The attack was claimed by a Pakistani Taleban faction but was branded "un-Islamic" by the umbrella group's leadership, who also vowed to hunt down those responsible.
The entire nation is united and one against terrorism... We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland.
PAKISTAN'S PRIME MINISTER NAWAZ SHARIF
Most of the 21 victims were laid to rest shortly after the attack according to Muslim tradition, while about 1,000 people in a nearby village yesterday attended the fu-neral of a university caretaker who was killed.
One of the students wounded in the attack died overnight and his funeral was to be held later yesterday. Seven other survivors remained in stable condition and were being treated in local hospitals, officials said.
Among those who died was assistant chemistry professor Syed Hamid Husain, who was lauded for challenging the gunmen and firing at them with his pistol while his terrified students raced for cover.
Professor Husain was buried in his home village of Swabi as those who knew him paid tribute.
Most of the victims died at a hostel for young men where security forces also cornered the four attackers.
Pools of blood and overturned furniture could be seen inside the hostel, while in a back alley outside, an old wooden plaque on the wall proclaims: "Heroes die young."
Meanwhile, the bodies of the militants, bloodied and with their clothes torn, were unceremoniously dumped onto the floor of a truck before being taken away from the scene.
The Bacha Khan attack, which Amnesty International said could be branded a war crime, brought global condemnation, including from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and neighbouring India.
Mr Sharif said in a statement from Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, that he was "personally monitoring" the situation.
"The countless sacrifices made by our countrymen will not go in vain, Inshallah," he said.
"The entire nation is united and one against terrorism... We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland."
Attacks on education facilities were an early marker of the Taleban's extremist ideology and ruthless methods.
Schools are seen as symbols of government authority and of a modernist view of the future that the militants loathe, and provide easy targets with maximum shock value.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,NEW YORK TIMES