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As many as 126 people are dead, including more than 84 identified as children, in Pakistan on Tuesday after Taliban soldiers stormed a military-run school located in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
At least five members of the Pakistan Taliban have been killed so far and reports indicate that hostages remain inside the walled-in campus of the school while members of the Pakistan Army and security forces continue to exchange gunfire with those who conducted the raid.
As the Associated Press reports, it is "not clear how many students and staff remained still inside the facility. A student who escaped and a police official on the scene earlier said that at one point, about 200 students were being held hostage. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media."
According to the Agence France-Presse:
An estimated 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside the school when the premises were stormed by at least six armed men, military officials said.
Troops surrounded the building and an operation was under way to rescue the remaining children, the army said. Heavy gunfire could reportedly be heard from inside the school. Outside, helicopters hovered overhead and ambulances ferried wounded children to hospital.
An unspecified number of children were still being held hostage in the school, a provincial official said, speaking some three hours after the attack began.
"The chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has received information from the army officials that children are still being held hostage," Inayatullah Khan, the provincial minister for local government, told television.
The Guardian's correspondent Jon Boone filed this update which describes a statement from the Taliban claiming told its operatives “not to kill minor children”:
TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani has been making calls to local media. According to one journalist he said: “This is a reaction to the killing of our children and dumping of bodies of our mujahideen in various parts of the country. Around six suicide bombers entered the school and we are in contact with them. We have asked them not to kill minor children.”
Hours into the siege, three explosions were heard inside the military-run high school, and a Reuters journalist at the scene said he heard heavy gunfire.
Outside, as helicopters rumbled overhead, police struggled to hold back distraught parents who were trying to break past a security cordon and get into the school.
Bahramand Khan, director of information for the regional Chief Minister's Secretariat, said at least 126 people were killed and 122 wounded.
"It may rise," he said, adding that more than 100 of the dead were school children. A local hospital said the dead and wounded it had seen were aged between 10 and 20 years old.
The hardline Islamist Taliban movement immediately claimed responsibility.
"We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females," said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani. "We want them to feel the pain."
It was not clear whether some or all of the children were killed by gunmen, suicide bombs or in the ensuing battle with Pakistani security forces trying to gain control of the building.
The New York Times adds:
The attack comes at a time of intense political strife in Pakistan. The opposition politician Imran Khan, who controls Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, has been staging protest rallies in major cities. Mr. Khan claims that the general elections of 2013 were rigged and is now demanding a judicial investigation.
Since August, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has carried out protests in the capital against Mr. Sharif and has demanded his resignation. On Monday, Mr. Khan’s party paralyzed the eastern city of Lahore by blocking its main roads and protesting outside main government buildings. The party has announced that it will try to shut down the entire country on Thursday. Mr. Sharif has responded by inviting Mr. Khan to the negotiating table.
While the political parties fight it out on the streets, the attack on Tuesday was a grim reminder that militancy remains the most potent threat to the country. The military says that at least 1,800 militants have been killed in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and that the terrorists remain on the run.
As part of its live coverage, The Guardian provided this basic summary of Tuesday's events:
- 126 people have been killed and many more injured in an attack by the Pakistani Taliban on an army-run school in Peshawar, a regional official said.
- The Pakistani army said it had killed five terrorists and was searching for more. There are still believed to be hostages inside the school. A number of explosions have been heard from inside the building
- The Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has arrived in Peshawar. He called the attack a national tragedy. “These are my children and it is my loss,” he said.
- Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban, said it attacked the army-run school “because the government is targeting our families and females”.