Taliban insurgents ambushed a school bus on Tuesday, killing four pupils and the driver in a hail of bullets and rocket fire in Peshawar’s suburban Mattani area. Another 18 people, including four children, two of them seven-year-old girls, were also wounded in the attack.
The children studied at Khyber Model School Zangli, an elite English-language school in the Badabher area. The Taliban are opposed to Western-imported, education and have destroyed hundreds of schools in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and adjoining tribal regions.
Police said the bus was taking children home in the Kalakhel area at the end of the school day.
“The gunmen were waiting for the bus in fields near the Ghazi Abad area on Mattani bypass road and attacked when it came close. They fired a rocket and then fired bullets on the van,” Deputy Superintendent of Police Sajjad Khan told The Express Tribune. He confirmed that four schoolchildren and the driver were killed.
Sajjad blamed the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the attack. The Kalakhel tribesmen have sided with the government and formed a tribal militia (Lashkar) to supplement the government’s fight against militancy.
Sajjad was right. Later in the evening TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack, saying their purpose “was to punish the Kakakhel tribe who formed a lashkar against us”.
“The Kalakhels were warned but they did not disband the lashkar, and we again warn all other lashkars that they will meet the same fate for opposing the Taliban at America’s behest,” he added.
Interestingly, Kalakhel tribesmen denied forming any lashkar against the militants. “We don’t have a lashkar. But yes, we have a peace committee which is responsible for the security of coalmines in the Kalakhel area. This committee is not new, it was formed in 2001,” Arshad Khan, a local told The Express Tribune.
Khan admitted the peace committee was formed at the instigation of local political authorities but would not agree that the authorities had closed down the coalmines to force local tribesmen to form an anti-Taliban lashkar.
Outside Peshawar’s main Lady Reading Hospital, Jahandar Shah, whose seven-year-old son Jamal died, sobbed uncontrollably and smothered his forehead in kisses as he tried to pull his blood-stained body from a stretcher onto his lap.
He blamed the government and the Taliban, for his son’s death, screaming: “What was the fault of this innocent child? Why did you kill him?”
Shoaib Khan, a 15-year-old student wounded in the attack, said gunmen first opened fire on one side of the road, then waited for pupils to start fleeing before widening the attack. “I started bringing kids out of the bus when the gunmen began firing from the other flank as well,” he said. “Then I was also injured and fell unconscious. I don’t know what happened next.”
Habib Khattak, a doctor at LRH, said 18 wounded were admitted after the attack, 12 of them children and the others teachers and passers-by.
Teachers at the Khyber Model School Zangli said they had taken measures to avoid the wrath of the militants.
“We received no threatening letter,” Vice Principal Salman Ahmed told AFP. “We stopped singing classes and the school band playing music during the morning assembly because we know militants are active in the area.”
(With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2011.