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Attack at Bacha Khan University in Pakistan Leaves at Least 22 Dead

At least 22 people were killed and many more wounded when militants attacked a university campus in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, a police official said.

A leader of the Pakistani Taliban said the group claimed responsibility for the attack, among the most brazen in a long insurgency it has waged against the authorities here that has targeted educational institutions in particular.

The site of Wednesday's assault, Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, was just 25 miles from a school in Peshawar where the Pakistani Taliban killed 145 people, most of them children, in 2014. Two years earlier, the group shot Malala Yousafzai, the teenage activist for girls' rights and future Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The Taliban have been weakened recently in Pakistan after the military launched an offensive in their main haven of North Waziristan, but the attack and a suicide bombing on Tuesday that killed 11 people together showed that they were still a dangerous force.

Under a heavy fog on Wednesday, gunmen scaled the rear walls of the university around 9 a.m., firing into the air, witnesses said.

Security forces killed the attackers before they could detonate suicide vests, said Saeed Wazir, the Charsadda police chief.

The dead included students, a senior faculty member and four guards, said Fakhr-i-Alam, a senior government official. At least 19 people were wounded. A Pakistani military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, said that at least four attackers had been killed in exchanges of fire with the security forces.

Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, condemned the attack. "We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland," he said in a statement from Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum. "The countless sacrifices made by our countrymen will not go in vain, inshallah."

Raza Mohammed Khan, deputy superintendent of the police in Charsadda, said that all four attackers had been killed and that no more militants remained inside the university.

"Bomb disposal people are on the spot defusing suicide vests," Mr. Fakhr-i-Alam said. "The operation is over; clearance and search is on."

Khalifa Umar Mansoor, a Pakistani Taliban leader, called reporters in Peshawar to claim responsibility for the attack and to say that four of their men were involved. He said the assault was in response for the execution in December of four men convicted of aiding the 2014 Peshawar school attackers.

An official at Bacha Khan University said that when she and her colleagues realized they were under attack, they locked the door of their office, turned off the lights and lay on the floor. "The university has its own security staff, but it's not adequate enough to face the well-armed and -trained Taliban," said the official, Salma Khan.

She said many of the students were killed in their dormitories. "Our resolve of educating our children cannot be shaken by such cowardly acts," she said.

Sajjad Ahmed, a professor of sociology and gender studies, said he saw the attackers shoot a dozen students. "I will not forget this terrible scene for rest of my life," he said. "Students were falling like someone was cutting down newly blossomed flowers."

Kasib Jan, a student, told ARY TV that he had seen four or five gunmen with black turbans shouting "Allahu akbar," or "God is great."

"They were firing all around," he said. "University security guards first engaged them, but it was beyond their capacities. We hid behind the benches in the classrooms. We heard them walking around, but they moved away. We came out and ran away to safety."

He said that Wednesday was an exam day and that a peace concert had also been scheduled, so the campus was filled with students. Officials said 2,500 students and staff members were at the school during the attack.

Bacha Khan University was founded in 2012 and named after Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Pashtun activist who advocated nonviolent means to resist British rule in South Asia. Wednesday was the 28th anniversary of the death of Mr. Ghaffar Khan, who was described as "the frontier Gandhi."

A graduate student at a local hospital, being treated for a gunshot wound, told ARY TV that he could not see much of the attack because of the fog.

Peshawar and the surrounding region have faced repeated attacks in recent years. The December 2014 attack by seven Pakistani Taliban gunmen on a military-run school in Peshawar was the deadliest in Pakistan's history and provoked a broad crackdown on militants in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.

A Taliban attack on a Pakistani Air Force base near Peshawar killed 30 people in September. In the assault on Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 11 people at a police checkpoint in Peshawar.

[Source: By Ismail Khan, The New York Times, Peshawar, Pak, 20Jan16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 21Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.