During the morning hours of December 16, seven jihadist gunmen reportedly dressed in military fatigues and wearing suicide vests stormed a military-run school, the Army Public School and Degree College, in northern Peshawar. Their spokesman said they scaled the school’s walls. The gunmen then went room to room shooting pupils. Three attackers were said to have detonated their vests. Unconfirmed reports also indicated that militants burned teachers alive in front of their students. It was originally reported that some 500 students were being held hostage. However, it now appears the operation was not to take hostages. Killing was the objective.
After reacting, the military encountered difficulties clearing the school because militants placed explosives. Nonetheless, Pakistani forces eventually pressed the assailants to isolated areas. Some eight hours after the attack began, the military was able to eliminate all the attackers. At least 141 people, mostly children, were killed. Scores remain in hospital.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Pakistan’s most powerful insurgent faction, has claimed responsibility. It said the attacks were in response for Pakistan’s ongoing military campaigns in the tribal areas of Waziristan in the northwest. Pakistan says those operations have killed close to one-thousand militants in recent months.
This latest attack is considered an escalation, both by the Pakistani government and the TTP, given the target and high number of casualties. The Taliban likely sought to conduct a major operation in response to the two simultaneous military campaigns against Islamist fighters in the northwest tribal areas. The TTP most likely aimed for a target that would garner the greatest publicity, create the most shock, and cause the highest number of fatalities. Divisions within the group may have increased the need to launch such a devastating attack, to unite their forces and prevent an exodus of fighters to perceivably more radical factions. As a result, Pakistan is likely to intensify its campaign against TTP and other jihadists in the tribal regions. Such a step could formally be announced in the coming days.