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Taliban Vows More Attacks as Pakistan Mourns Student Slaughter

Wednesday, 17 Dec 2014 06:59 AM

Taliban militants vowed more strikes on Pakistan's army if it doesn't halt operations along the Afghan border, a threat that comes a day after the group slaughtered young students in one of the country's deadliest attacks.

As mourners thronged outside the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, where the attack took place, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called a meeting that includes top opponent Imran Khan, who has led streets protests to oust him since August. A list of the 141 dead at the hospital showed that most of the 132 students who passed away yesterday were 14 years old.

"At least someone tell me where my son is," Inamullah, a father, screamed while waiting in the cold for news about his missing child. He had already buried one son and still hadn't heard whether his other boy was alive.

The carnage may galvanize support for a more stringent campaign to uproot Taliban militants based along the border with Afghanistan who want impose their version of Islamic law in place of Pakistan's democracy. Sharif authorized an offensive against them in June to stem violence that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001 and constrained economic growth.

Parents wept outside the hospital's emergency room, and lines of ambulances waited by the building to take bodies away after they had been identified. A joint funeral prayer was held at the main army office in Peshawar this morning for those who lost their lives. Army chief General Raheel Sharif participated, according to images broadcast on state-run TV.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, demanded that the army halt an offensive into North Waziristan. It also accused the government of killing Taliban fighters in prison and detaining their family members.

The TTP "was forced to take this extreme step to target this school where children of army officers and soldiers were studying," it said in an e-mailed statement. "Unless demands are met, Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan will be forced to target every institution affiliated with the army or security forces nationwide."

An army operation ended the assault about nine hours after it began yesterday with all seven terrorists dead, military spokesman Asim Bajwa told reporters in Peshawar. Of the 141 fatalities, 132 were students at the school and nine were employees, he said, adding that more than 121 people were injured and about 960 were rescued. Seven soldiers were wounded.

Peshawar city remained completely closed and deserted this morning. Most shops remained shut, while anti-terrorist police officers armed with AK-47 rifles patrolled empty streets. Soldiers were seen on the rooftop of the school.

The attackers entered the campus using ladders to climb over a back wall and fired indiscriminately in the school auditorium during their assault, Bajwa said. Strapped with suicide vests, they made no demands and attempted to plant explosives on the school grounds during the strike, he said.

"These people were not humans; they were monsters," Bajwa said of the militants.

Raheel Sharif vowed to destroy the militant group in a Twitter posting by Bajwa before the end of the attack. He said the military already had begun to retaliate and that 10 air strikes were conducted in the Khyber tribal agency yesterday.

"This is a decisive moment in the fight against terrorism," Nawaz Sharif, who isn't related to the army chief, told reporters in Peshawar before the end of the incident.

Pakistan's benchmark KSE100 Index rose 0.2 percent at 11:08 a.m. local time. Yesterday it fell 2.6 percent, the most in four months. Emirates suspended flights to Peshawar due to operational reasons yesterday, according to a statement.

The country's political parties have debated the best way to deal with Taliban militants, with some favoring a more aggressive military response and others arguing that talks would be more effective. Negotiations between Sharif's government and Taliban representatives broke down earlier this year.

At the same time, Nawaz Sharif has sought to stave off protests from Khan, who accuses him of fraudulently winning an election last year. Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party postponed a call to "shut down" the country tomorrow and will meet to discuss future actions. He said on Twitter he'd go to today's meeting to "reassure the nation that we are united at this time of national tragedy."

"We are one with the nation," Shah Mahmood Qureshi, deputy chairman of Khan's party and a former foreign minister, said by phone. "We need a national coordinated effort against this menace."

Sharif's party welcomed Khan's statements, according to party leader Siddiq-ul-Farooq.

"Foreign nations including the U.S. have also realized that Pakistan has nurseries for terrorism but is also a victim and need all the help it can get," he said by phone from Islamabad. "No relative of the dead children will stay back anymore. Relatives will be found in all political parties and they will support the government to end terrorism now."

Leaders from around the globe condemned the bloodshed. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Sharif to offer his condolences and asked schools to observe two minutes of silence as a mark of solidarity with his neighboring nation, he wrote in posts on Twitter. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "this is the world's loss."

Taliban militants claimed responsibility for a suicide blast at the India-Pakistan border last month that killed 53 people. Yesterday's attack was Pakistan's deadliest since 2007, when a suicide bomber killed more than 140 people at a political rally for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was later assassinated.

"Whatever happens, terrorism in Pakistan will continue, as it doubtless will in so many Muslim nations," said Anatol Lieven, the author of "Pakistan: A Hard Country", in a phone interview from Doha, Qatar. "But it could be reduced, if there were concerted calls now for action."

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Taliban militants vowed more strikes on Pakistan's army if it doesn't halt operations along the Afghan border, a threat that comes a day after the group slaughtered young students in one of the country's deadliest attacks.
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Wednesday, 17 Dec 2014 06:59 AM
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