Militants attack varsity in Pakistan

Students fleeing Bacha Khan University in Charsadda (above) following an attack by militants yesterday, while army soldiers rescue a victim (left).
Students fleeing Bacha Khan University in Charsadda (above) following an attack by militants yesterday, while army soldiers rescue a victim.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Students fleeing Bacha Khan University in Charsadda (above) following an attack by militants yesterday, while army soldiers rescue a victim (left).
Students fleeing Bacha Khan University in Charsadda following an attack by militants yesterday, while army soldiers rescue a victim (above).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

19 killed; Taleban commander and spokesman make contradictory claims

CHARSADDA (Pakistan) • Armed militants stormed a university in volatile north-western Pakistan yesterday, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens a little more than a year after the massacre of 134 students at a school in the area, officials said.

A senior Pakistani Taleban commander claimed responsibility for the assault in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province but an official spokesman later denied involvement, calling the attack "un-Islamic".

There were conflicting reports on the death toll at Bacha Khan University in the city of Charsadda, with regional police chief Saeed Wazir telling AFP the number of dead had risen to 21. Another security official told Reuters the toll could rise to as high as 40.

The army said it had concluded operations to clear the campus six hours after the attack began and that four gunmen were dead, although it was unclear if the four were included in the toll of 21.

Mr Umar Mansoor, a senior Pakistani Taleban commander involved in the December 2014 attack on the army school in Peshawar, claimed responsibility for the assault and said it involved four of his men. He told Reuters by telephone the university was targeted because it was a government institution that supported the army.

But, later in the day, official Taleban spokesman Muhammad Khorasani issued a written statement disassociating the militants from the attack, calling it un-Islamic.

The apparent dispute over who was responsible appeared to be a sign of continued infighting in the Pakistani Taleban, as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group seeks to gain a foothold in the region by recruiting disaffected fighters.

Among the dead were students, guards, policemen and at least one teacher, named by local media as chemistry professor Syed Hamid Husain. Many were apparently shot in the head execution-style, local media reported.

Witnesses said two large explosions were seen as security forces swarmed the university from the ground and the air to halt the bloodshed.

Students told media that they saw several young men wielding AK-47 guns storming the university dormitories where many students were sleeping.

"They came from behind and there was a big commotion," an unnamed male student told a news channel from a hospital bed in Charsadda's District Hospital.

"We were told by teachers to leave immediately."

Pakistan, which has suffered years of militant violence, has killed and arrested hundreds of suspected extremists under a major crackdown launched after the 2014 attack. "We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement following the attack yesterday.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'Militants attack varsity in Pakistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe