Peshawarites mourn and the whole nation mourns with them. People across the country lit candles and staged vigils as parents bade final farewells to their children during funerals in and around Peshawar and in other cities.
Almost every neighbourhood of Peshawar has lost a loved-one in Tuesday’s sickening Taliban violence at the Army Public School and College that killed 148 people, mostly pupils. Peshawar was bruised on Wednesday. A pall of gloom hung over the city as all business centres and markets were shut in mourning.
The whole city had turned up to share the grief of the devastated families. Banners announcing funeral prayers for the slain schoolchildren were hung on every electricity pylon in Khyber Bazaar, Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Misgaran Bazaar, Chowk Yaadgar and Bazaar Kalan and in other areas of the Walled City.
The bodies of two pupils were taken to the Wazir Bagh graveyard for burial. The mourners were unable to speak as their voices choked with tears. Sher Khan, a resident of Wazir Bagh, said that the neighbourhood lost four children in the dastardly attack. “We buried two bodies last night, while the remaining two were buried today,” Khan told The Express Tribune.
Funeral prayers in absentia were also offered by civil society organisations across the city and elsewhere in the country. Political parties also arranged Quran Khawani.
Grisly scenes at the school
The sprawling grounds of the APS were all but deserted on Wednesday, with a few military snipers manning the roofs of its brick-and-stone buildings. Army vehicles and soldiers wearing face masks and carrying assault rifles were deployed at the entrance.
Most casualties took place in the school auditorium where a large number of students were attending a lecture when the assault began. A visit by local journalists revealed the 300-seat auditorium shattered by hours of gunfight, its floor slick with blood and walls pockmarked with bullet holes.
The hall was littered with abandoned blood-strained schoolbags, ties, badges, socks, shoes, books, pens and copies. The broken chairs told tales of battles the young students fought for their survivals. The wall near the podium was blackened by fire where, according to some accounts, one schoolteacher was burnt to death. There was a pool of blood at the main exit of the auditorium, revealing mass killings there.
The classrooms were no different from the auditorium. The scenes at the Administration Block were more grisly and sickening where human organs attracted broadcast journalists. Abandoned belongings of the staffers, including cellphones, hairclips, dupattas and wollen shawls lay nearby.
One wall was smashed where a suicide bomber blew himself up, blood splattered across it. His body parts were piled nearby on a white cloth. The air was thick with the smell of explosives and flesh. “This is worse than a battlefield,” a senior journalist remarked, subdued by the tragedy. “In a battlefield, armed soldiers fight, while here unarmed, defenceless children were massacred.”
The visiting journalists were given access to two blocs of the school. A military officer accompanying the journalists said, “You cannot even imagine the kind of brutalities the attackers perpetrated in a bloc adjacent to the auditorium.” He added that the bloc was locked as it presented the look of a slaughterhouse.
Fresh details of the attack
More details of the attack emerged on Wednesday as witnesses came forward with accounts. “The attackers came around 10:30am on a pick-up van,” said Issamuddin, a 25-year-old school bus driver. “They drove it around the back of the school and set it on fire to block the way. Then they went to Gate 1 and killed a soldier, a gatekeeper and a gardener. Firing began and the first suicide attack took place.”
Issamuddin’s account was corroborated by some police investigators who said the attackers were seven – six suicide bombers and one driver. The driver, however, didn’t enter the school building and instead escaped after setting the vehicle on fire.
“They scaled the school’s boundary wall with the help of a ladder and cut the barbed wire with cutters,” a police official told The Express Tribune. “They shot dead three people before proceeding to the main compound.” He added that one group, comprising four attackers, entered the auditorium and opened indiscriminate fire.
“We have been told that a farewell party for Class X was under way at the auditorium,” he said, adding that around 12 noon one suicide bomber was shot by the police and army commandos while five others took position in the Administration Block.
“These five were killed in the operation by army commandos,” he said, adding that during the operation around a dozen blasts were carried out by the commandos to divert the attention of the terrorists who put up stiff resistance. Only the limbs of the terrorists have been found as their bodies were blown into pieces due to the explosives strapped to their bodies. “Army troops only found their legs,” he said.
Meanwhile an FIR has been registered against unknown terrorists and their masterminds at the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) police station. According to the FIR, the attack left 146 people dead and 130 injured. Thirteen army men are also among the casualties. “These terrorists came from the Bihari Colony side and set their high-roof van (Islamanad FB-187) on fire before entering the building,” states the FIR.
Attack planned in 1st week of Dec
The attack was planned by the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in a meeting held near a Pak-Afghan border area in the first week of December, according to a document available with The Express Tribune.
The document received from the Counter-Terrorism Department, Peshawar, reveals that the attack was planned by the TTP central leadership and militants from Bajaur, Mohmand and Orakzai tribal regions in a meeting and seven suicide bombers were trained for it at Khyber Agency. Mullah Fazlullah supervised the meeting.
The bombers – identified as Abuzar, Umar, Imran, Yousaf, Uzair, Qari and Chamnay – were trained at Sheen Drang Markaz of Bara after which they were sent to Peshawar, according to the document.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2014.