At least 21 killed after gunmen attack university in Pakistan; Taleban claims responsibility

Soldiers entering the Bacha Khan University during an attack by militants, in this video still released by ARY News on Jan 20.
Soldiers entering the Bacha Khan University during an attack by militants, in this video still released by ARY News on Jan 20. PHOTO: REUTERS
People evacuating from the Bacha Khan University during an attack by militants, in this video still released by ARY News on Jan 20.
People evacuating from the Bacha Khan University during an attack by militants, in this video still released by ARY News on Jan 20.PHOTO: REUTERS
Two men consoling each other as people are evacuated at the Bacha Khan University during an attack by militants, in this video still released by ARY News on Jan 20.
Two men consoling each other as people are evacuated at the Bacha Khan University during an attack by militants, in this video still released by ARY News on Jan 20.PHOTO: REUTERS
The Bacha Khan University campus in Charsadda.
The Bacha Khan University campus in Charsadda.PHOTO: BACHA KHAN UNIVERSITY/FACEBOOK

PESHAWAR (REUTERS/AFP) - A group of militants stormed a university in volatile north-western Pakistan on Wednesday (Jan 20), the police said, with firing inside the campus still going on and two explosions heard.

The police told AFP that the death toll had risen to 21 in the attack claimed by the Taleban, while security forces had ended the operation against the gunmen.

The Pakistani authorities concluded an operation to clear the university, the army's spokesman said, ending the assault.

"The operation is over and the university has been cleared," Pakistan army spokesman General Asim Bajwa told Reuters. "Four gunmen have been killed."

The militants, using the cover of thick, wintry fog, scaled the walls of the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, before entering buildings and opening fire on students and teachers in classrooms and hostels.

"The death toll in the terrorist attack has risen to 21," regional police chief Saeed Wazir told AFP without specifying if that included the four militants the army stated it had killed.

Earlier, he said that more than 30 others including students, staff and security guards were wounded.

"There are five dead bodies in front of me," said emergency official Bilal Faizi, speaking from the university earlier in the afternoon. "All of them have bullet wounds."

 

The Taleban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The US White House comdemned it "in the strongest possible terms".

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned it too, Xinhua reported.

Two of the gunmen were killed by security forces after the army moved into the university, Deputy Inspector-General Saeed Wazir told Reuters, but other attackers were believed to be at large on the second and third floors of the campus buildings.

Three security guards, one university lecturer and one student were critically wounded but there were no confirmed deaths, he said, adding that 70 per cent of students had been rescued.

Television channels quoted rescue officials as saying that a chemistry professor had been killed and 50 people wounded in the attack.

The militants, using the cover of thick, wintry fog, scaled the walls of the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, before entering buildings and opening fire on students and teachers in classrooms and hostels, police said.

"All students have been evacuated from the hostels, but militants are still hiding in different parts of the university and some students and staff are stuck inside," Insp Wazir said.

He said it was unclear how many gunmen were involved.

The Pakistani military's media wing said the army had cordoned off the university with the militants inside and were carrying out air surveillance.

Television footage showed soldiers entering the campus as ambulances lined up outside the main gate and anxious parents consoled each other.

Pakistan, which has suffered from years of militant violence, has killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants under a major crackdown launched after a massacre of 134 school children in December 2014 in the north-west.

The 2014 school attack by six gunmen believed linked to the Pakistani Taleban hit a raw nerve in Pakistan and was seen as having hardened Pakistan's resolve to fight militants along its lawless border with Afghanistan.

Vice-Chancellor Fazal Rahim told reporters that the Bacha Khan University teaches over 3,000 students and hosted an additional 600 visitors on Wednesday for a poetry recital.

Mr Shabir Khan, a lecturer in the English department, said he was about to leave the hostel for the department when firing began.

"Most of the students and staff were in classes when the firing began," he said. "I have no idea about what's going on but I heard one security official talking on the phone to someone and said many people had been killed and injured."