An APS attack survivor’s extraordinary story

Published: December 14, 2015
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

“He shot at me seven times,” shares Aakif Azeem, as he revealed a play-by-play account of the school day which changed his life forever. “I was in the toilet at around 10.30am when I first heard gun fire. There’s a marriage hall near our school, so I thought the firing might be coming from there. But within a minute or two, the firing got really louder. When I stepped out of the toilet, I saw him for the first time. He was wearing a blue shalwar kameez, a brown sweater and a cap. He had an AK-47 in one hand and a pistol in another. I tried to run for cover behind a pillar and he shouted in Pashto asking me to stop. I knew that was the end of it. I froze with fear.

APS massacre survivors still haunted one year on

“Three bullets hit the pillar,” shared Aakif. “That’s when another attacker asked the one shooting in my direction to follow him to the auditorium nearby, as there were more children there. The attacker shot four more times, missing the pillar and hitting the wall across. Then, he left for the auditorium. I re-grouped myself and went to a nearby class room, 7-B. The class had over 20 children and a female teacher. We barricaded the door and huddled in the centre of the room, away from the door and mirrors. Around 11am, the firing became extremely loud before it tapered off. The doors of the auditorium were opening and I could see eight to 10 bodies in the corridor. It was a scene from a horror movie with zombies walking around. Some of the guys were shot on their mouth. Some had their jaws open. Someone was holding their arm. Three boys died in front of me. That’s when I realised my brother was in the auditorium too. But it wasn’t clear to me what I should do next.”

PM approves naming 122 schools after APS victims

With the attackers appearing to move on from a particular area of the school, Aakif went towards his own classroom. “I saw our chemistry lab assistant dead on the floor,” he shares. “The next person I saw dead was Mehr, one of my closest friends. I pulled his body into the washroom. Next, I saw my Urdu teacher, who asked if I was okay. I said yes, but this was the last I saw of her. When I reached my class, all I could see was blood but no bodies. I thanked God because I thought all my friends had escaped. It was much later in the evening when I would find out what actually happened to my best friends.

132 children killed in Peshawar school attack

“I moved back into class 7B and all of us huddled together, waiting to be rescued,” he shared. “We heard gunshots again, lots of voices and a thud. Then there was silence, except for a young boy’s voice asking for help near the door of the class. When we opened the door, we realised that he had been hung by his own sweater. I still remember his words: “Kash mujhey bhi koi bacha leta.” He had been shot three times already and was bleeding profusely. One of the bullets had gone through his chin. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to survive but I tried to stop his bleeding with my shirt as I was a pre-med student.”

A year on: City pays tribute to APS martyrs

Soon after, Aakif and others huddled in the classroom were rescued by the Pakistan Army and he found out that his brother was safe too. But this was only the beginning of the terror that he faced that fateful day on December 16, 2014. As reports came in of over a hundred dead, Aakif rushed to the hospital to check on his friends and classmates. “When I first saw the list of casualties,” he shares, “I recognised that my classmates dominated the list from number 13 to number 40. When I saw that my four best friends were dead, I fell to the floor and finally lost control of my emotions. That’s when everything hit me. I would never be the same man again.”

APS attack convict’s death sentence challenged

This is the first in a three-part series on Aakif’s story in his words. The second and third parts of his story will appear tomorrow and the day after in this space. Extraordinary Pakistanis seeks to find and share inspirational stories about everyday Pakistani heroes (if you know someone who should be profiled, send us a Tweet @Mbilallakhani). If we don’t share these stories about Pakistan, no one else will.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Daud
    Dec 15, 2015 - 6:59AM

    Surely, these flowers of the City of Flowers brutally plucked up, are the flowers of Heaven.Recommend

  • pk
    Dec 15, 2015 - 7:48AM

    Absolutely horror. These are the victims of wrong policies of so called No. 1 intelligence agency in the world.Recommend

  • Dija
    Dec 15, 2015 - 10:32AM

    Speechless…..cannot find the right words to describe the irreparable loss and the deep pain of the parents for whom the life indeed has become meaningless and can be compared to a dreadful never ending journey….RIP our precious heroes….Recommend

  • Gemini
    Dec 15, 2015 - 11:04AM

    Is this star plus serial you are making this in serials?Recommend

  • Zubair
    Dec 15, 2015 - 11:17AM

    As a Pakistani, we all failed those children that day. Not just the security services, all of us. We all indulged the debate if jihadis, mujahideen, good taliban and bad taliban. No more. Recommend

  • Asim
    Dec 15, 2015 - 12:08PM

    Difficult to read these stories, this was our 9/11 and whoever that has been held responsible for this act should be hanged in public and their sponsors to be exposed as well. Love the spirit and strength of these kids to go back to the same school and continue their studies.Recommend

  • Maira
    Dec 15, 2015 - 12:14PM

    It is extremely brave and courageous of these children to go back to the same place but without those friends and teachers. Each n every room and corridor must have reminded them of the bloodshed but still they are focused on their studies. Hats off to themRecommend

  • MAyOr
    Dec 15, 2015 - 12:26PM

    @pk: When a world speaks of victim, they speak like humans, but when an Indian speaks, he always speaks like a neanderthal.Recommend

  • Kamran Mahmood
    Dec 15, 2015 - 12:31PM

    Our little souls are not lost they have shown what courage is. Many of us live a lavish and protected life while there are brave solders who give theirs just to save ours.

    Age has nothing to do with but the hyenas who hurt / kill the innocent would surely one day meet their fate that they have prepared for them.

    I pray that may ALLAH THE ALMIGHTY give our brave little heroes a highest place in Heaven and shower HIS blessings upon them till the Day of Judgement.

    I also pray to the ALMIGHTY ALLAH to shower his WRATH upon the killers (living or dead) till the day of Judgement and even after without mercy. AMEEN Recommend

  • farooq
    Dec 15, 2015 - 1:46PM

    May Allah unleash his wrath on the culprits may they share the same fate as shared by the parents of These innocent kids..AmeenRecommend

  • Srehman
    Dec 15, 2015 - 2:14PM

    Speechless ..!!! I don’t know what to say about the horror that children had to go through …Thay are SHAHEEDS ..May Allah give their families Sabr and reunite them with their beautiful flowers in jannah ..AmeenRecommend

  • Fast
    Dec 15, 2015 - 3:40PM

    @MAyOr:
    Fully agree.Their comments always full of intolerance and promoting intolerance here.Recommend

  • Anon
    Dec 15, 2015 - 4:01PM

    stay strong my friend.Recommend

  • Jawad
    Dec 15, 2015 - 4:15PM

    As I was reading this article its only natural that you visualize the words of the author, that bring said this was one hard read! Chills went through my spine. Such horror!
    @pk Don’t act like an idiot and do not assume that your policies are perfect because let’s face it we all know the current state of your country. This meaningless bickering is worthless and it will not benefit either side. Reminds me of a quote by McMaster Bujold
    “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them.”Recommend

  • Old Ravian
    Dec 15, 2015 - 4:43PM

    Eyes still well up when we read these stories. What i would like to know as to how was this attack planned, who was behind this and who were the sick minded people who killed children?? A year after the attack and some perpetrators brought to justice, we need to know the full story. Recommend

  • ishrat salim
    Dec 15, 2015 - 5:19PM

    RIP dear children, we failed you. Recommend

  • Milind
    Dec 15, 2015 - 8:24PM

    @MAyOR & Jawad – @pk is correct. Your establishment has played with fire all along and it boomeranged back last Dec. This paper carries another blog from Noman Ansari

    http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30873/why-do-over-17-million-pakistanis-hold-a-favourable-view-of-isis/

    Think objectively Unless this is fixed.. no point in weeping over the APS attack. More of these type of attacks will recur unless that ‘favourable’ opinion of ISIS prevails or LeT terrorists roam scott freeRecommend

  • Lunch Box
    Dec 16, 2015 - 1:29AM

    @Milind:
    we don’t want comments from the member of an ignorant nation. If you are so sympathetic then your country’s policies should stop pushing us towards desperation. If you have any conscious then introspect and then say it’s all our fault. You should not be commenting on this issue as it has nothing to do with you but you and likes of you are found here to derive pleasure from our tragedies so that you can feel superior, larger than life. Recommend

  • Mahreen
    Dec 16, 2015 - 10:43AM

    Dear Bilal, as a mother, as a fellow Pakistani, as a human being, my tears flow and my heart bleeds as I read ur story and try but to imagine what u and ur friends went through that horrible day. I thank you for sharing your story, for your courage and for your strength to persevere in the face of such horror. This nation stands with u and we mourn for our sons, our littlest angels who left us too soon. They are never gone..they will live in our hearts forever. We will never forget. Stay strong. Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2015 - 12:34PM

    My dear massoom shaeed nunhay bucho
    I say salam to you
    Salam AAP kaisay Ryman shuda ko
    Salam AAP ke shuaat. Ko salam AAP ke
    Yaadaian hum ko sera rahe haain
    AAP ke muskerahatain AAP kaay qahqay
    Sheen. Leay zalmoon naay
    Tum. naay. Shadut ka turns pa lea
    Serum pur jaan qurban kurde khoon aalood
    Wetun Ke zumeen humaray aansoo juzeb Ker lo
    Gawah rahna ayy zumeen un shaheed buchoon say
    Pyyar haay pyyar haay
    Allah ya Allaha buchoon ke qurbani qubool ker
    Wetun ke hufazet Ker maire dhurte ko dushmun
    Dushmun kay surpursetoon saay bucha Recommend

  • Aiman
    Dec 16, 2015 - 12:56PM

    May Allah protect us all……AAMEENRecommend

  • Sadaf
    Dec 16, 2015 - 1:45PM

    Totally speechless eyes full of tears… we will never forget this n will never ever allow anyone to play with lives of our children … be strong and pak army zindabadRecommend

  • sundus
    Dec 16, 2015 - 5:20PM

    Terrible! what these little souls had to endure is simply unimaginable. The nation stands by you oh little ones. Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2015 - 6:16PM

    realities are still to be known. . . Recommend

  • Tayyaba Akmal
    Dec 16, 2015 - 11:09PM

    A really heart touching story.. A story which is full of tears, grief, sorrows, pain..God give us power & courage to overcome the terrorism..Recommend

  • straightshooter
    Dec 17, 2015 - 10:10AM

    And I went to bed hungry and tearful again….As for the Indian hyenas here, their snickers are justified today. Remember our fallen children, but more than that, don’t ever, ever forget our living enemies. The lesson was taught to us in the hardest possible way, at the cost of dozens of small, heavy coffins. Let this be a reminder to us. Let no one ever dare to be a Taliban apologist in our offices, colleges, families. Let us never tolerate, nay never forgive any ifs and buts. This is the only way some good may come out of such a painful, painful sacrifice.Recommend

  • mrs kashif
    Dec 17, 2015 - 10:18AM

    salam to young martyrs such a heart wrenching tragedyRecommend

  • lkhan
    Dec 17, 2015 - 12:44PM

    deeply painful and intense your suffering. having read all three columns, wish you always the best, admire the brave fortitude expressed in your words to bear such unbearable loss. Indeed sad to an extreme.Recommend

  • Nasser
    Dec 17, 2015 - 3:42PM

    @Lunch Box:
    Spot on bro…..Indians need pakistanis tragedies to feel superior. Obviously they can not compare with Chinese.Recommend

  • Sehrish
    Dec 17, 2015 - 10:54PM

    It brought tears. It’s more than brutality I have no words to explain how terrifying and painful it was read, imagine the pain parents are going through. They can never forget their loss. It was a mistake of the government we send our kids to school not to war.
    And I have doubts that may be Nawaz gov did it to divert the Dharran into morning.
    Media shouldn’t make such comments that parent should proud for sacrificing their loved ones. They was students not soldiers.Recommend

  • kdsayyed
    Dec 17, 2015 - 11:47PM

    my tears flow for you dear children. I know that the innocent flowers you were, you don’t need my prayers, never theless i shower them on you.Recommend

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