Pakistan school attack: Terrorists sought terrified children from under benches – CNN

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Pakistan lifts moratorium on the death penalty after massacre
  • Of the 145 people killed, a majority were children between ages 12 and 16
  • Attackers gunned down students hiding under benches
  • “A lot of the children are under the benches. ‘ “Kill them,’ ” attacker said

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — As Pakistan started three days of national mourning Wednesday, horrifying details emerged on a massacre that left 145 people dead, most of them children.

Peshawar city was shut down after 132 children were killed there in an hourslong siege Tuesday at an army school.

Markets remained closed as residents attended somber funerals across the city.

“Even the children are dying on the frontline in the war against terror,” said Khawaja Asif, the defense minister. “The smaller the coffin, the heavier it is to carry.”

A day after the massacre, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism cases.

Soldiers patrol the streets in Peshawar, Pakistan, near a school that was attacked by the Pakistani Taliban on Tuesday, December 16. Militants stormed the military-run school in northwest Pakistan, killing more than 140 people, most of them children. More than 100 people were injured.Soldiers patrol the streets in Peshawar, Pakistan, near a school that was attacked by the Pakistani Taliban on Tuesday, December 16. Militants stormed the military-run school in northwest Pakistan, killing more than 140 people, most of them children. More than 100 people were injured.
The uncle and cousin of injured student Mohammad Baqair comfort him as he mourns the death of his mother, a teacher who was killed in the attack.The uncle and cousin of injured student Mohammad Baqair comfort him as he mourns the death of his mother, a teacher who was killed in the attack.
A man comforts a student who survived the attack.A man comforts a student who survived the attack.
Parents escort their children away from the school.Parents escort their children away from the school.
A wounded student receives treatment at a Peshawar hospital.A wounded student receives treatment at a Peshawar hospital.
Pakistani soldiers hold positions close to the school. All the militants in the attack were eventually killed, a police official said.Pakistani soldiers hold positions close to the school. All the militants in the attack were eventually killed, a police official said.
Pakistani soldiers take position near the site of the attack.Pakistani soldiers take position near the site of the attack.
A student is wheeled into a hospital in Peshawar.A student is wheeled into a hospital in Peshawar.
A man and woman rush to a Peshawar hospital treating victims of the attack.A man and woman rush to a Peshawar hospital treating victims of the attack.
Family members wait outside the school.Family members wait outside the school.
People gather at a hospital where victims were being treated.People gather at a hospital where victims were being treated.
Pakistani soldiers position themselves at a fence near the besieged school.Pakistani soldiers position themselves at a fence near the besieged school.
A Pakistani soldier clears the area outside the school.A Pakistani soldier clears the area outside the school.
An injured student lies in bed at a Peshawar hospital after the attack.An injured student lies in bed at a Peshawar hospital after the attack.
A hospital security guard helps an injured student at the school.A hospital security guard helps an injured student at the school.
Parents leave with their children near the site of the attack.Parents leave with their children near the site of the attack.
A plainclothes officer escorts rescued students away from the school.A plainclothes officer escorts rescued students away from the school.
Pakistani troops reach the site of the attack.Pakistani troops reach the site of the attack.
Volunteers carry a student at a hospital in Peshawar.Volunteers carry a student at a hospital in Peshawar.
An injured girl gets rushed to a hospital in Peshawar.An injured girl gets rushed to a hospital in Peshawar.
A man comforts a student standing at the bedside of an injured boy.A man comforts a student standing at the bedside of an injured boy.
A Pakistani soldier takes position on a bunker close to the besieged school.A Pakistani soldier takes position on a bunker close to the besieged school.
Relatives of a student killed in the attack mourn over the student's body.Relatives of a student killed in the attack mourn over the student’s body.
Hospital staff transport an injured student in Peshawar.Hospital staff transport an injured student in Peshawar.
The body of a victim lies at a hospital in Peshawar.The body of a victim lies at a hospital in Peshawar.
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
Taliban attack Pakistani school
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Taliban attack Pakistani schoolPhotos: Taliban attack Pakistani school

Map: Peshawar, Pakistan Map: Peshawar, Pakistan

Map: Peshawar, PakistanMap: Peshawar, Pakistan

Students thought Taliban attack was drill

World leaders condemn Pakistan attack

Malala: Taliban school attack ‘senseless’

Pakistan takes on Taliban militants

Pakistan terror attack: What’s next?

‘Under the benches … kill them’

Taliban militants ambushed the school Tuesday, explosives strapped to their bodies, as they burst into an auditorium filled with students taking an exam. They sprayed bullets on them and burned teachers alive.

Student Ahmed Faraz, 14, recalled the moment the terrorists struck. He was in the auditorium when four or five people burst in through a back door and started firing rapidly.

“‘God is great,'” the militants shouted as they roared through the hallways, Ahmed said.

The sought out terrified children.

” ‘A lot of the children are under the benches,’ ” a Pakistani Taliban said, according to Ahmed. ” ‘Kill them.’ “

The ninth-grader got shot in his left shoulder and lay under a bench.

“My shoulder was peeking out of the bench,” Ahmed recalled. “They went into another room, (and when) I ran to the exit, I fell.”

Seventh-grader Mohammad Bilal said he was sitting outside his classroom taking a math test when the gunfire erupted. He fell into bushes before running to the school’s gates to safety.

Children drenched in blood

Pakistani troops eventually pushed through the buildings room-by-room, and confined the attackers to four buildings.

They found children drenched in blood. Some of the bodies lay on top of one another.

By the time the siege ended in the evening, military officials said all the seven militants were dead. It’s unclear whether they were killed or they detonated their explosives. The casualty tolls don’t include the terrorists.

The ambush at Army Public School and Degree College left more than 100 injured, many with gunshot wounds, according to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani.

The army school is home to about 1,100 students and staff, most of them sons and daughters of army personnel from around Peshawar.

It started with a ruse

The nightmare began in late morning, when a car exploded behind the school. Pakistani authorities said the blast was a ruse to divert the security guards’ attention.

Gunmen got over the walls and walked through where students in grades 8, 9 and 10 have classes.

The militants came in with enough ammunition and other supplies to last for days and were not expecting to come out alive, according to a Pakistani military official.

Most of those killed were between the ages of 12 and 16, said Pervez Khattak, chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital.

Some adults were also targeted, including a 28-year-old office assistant who was shot and burned alive, police official Faisal Shehzad said.

Goal was to kill, not take hostages

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurrassani said the militants’ intention was to kill students.

The Taliban had “300 to 400 people … under their custody” at one point, said Khurrassani, whose group is called Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.

But Pakistani authorities said there was no hostage situation, and the attackers’ focus was shooting to kill rather than taking captives.

Violent past

Pakistan has seen plenty of violence, much of it involving militants targeting restive regions in northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

It is the home base of the TTP, which seeks to enforce its conservative version of Islam in Pakistan. The group has battled Pakistani troops and attacked civilians including in Peshawar, an ancient city of more than 3 million people.

And the Taliban hasn’t hesitated to go after schoolchildren. Their most notable target is Malala Yousafzai, who was singled out and shot in October 2012 as she rode to school in a van with other girls. The teenage girl survived and became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize last week for her efforts to promote education and girls’ rights.

Yousafzai said the attack left her heartbroken.

“Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this,” she said.

Afghan Taliban slam Pakistan counterparts

This is the deadliest incident inside Pakistan since October 2007, when 139 Pakistanis died and more than 250 others were wounded in an attack near a procession for exiled former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database.

Even the Taliban in Afghanistan, who are closely affiliated with their Pakistani counterparts, criticized the killing of women and children as against Islamic teaching.

The spokesman of the Afghan terror group expressed condolences to the victims of Tuesday’s attack.

CNN’s Sophia Saifi reported from Islamabad, along with journalists Saleem Mehsud, Zahir Shah and Adeel Raja. CNN’s Greg Botelho and Faith Karimi wrote from Atlanta.

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