Taleban kills at least 30 in attack on Pakistan university

Emergency services take away one of the wounded in an attack by a Taleban faction. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Emergency services take away one of the wounded in an attack by a Taleban faction. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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An attack on a university in Pakistan which left at least 30 people dead has been ended by security forces.

The attackers triggered a heavy gun battle with police and army troops in Charsadda, a town 21 miles outside Peshawar, but officials said the operation to clear the site had now finished, and that four gunmen were killed.

The attack stirred grim memories of the Peshawar school attack in 2014 that killed more than 150 people, 132 of them children, and shocked the world. It also prompted the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to pledge Pakistan will wipe out the “menace of terrorism”.

Peshawar is the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on the Afghan border.

The attack began shortly after the Bacha Khan University opened for classes, said deputy commissioner Tahir Zafar.

As police and soldiers dashed to the scene, the attackers traded gunfire with the troops and several explosions were heard from the university campus. The attackers were later contained inside two university blocks where they were killed by troops, the army said.

A chemistry professor and a student were among those killed, said Mr Zafar, adding that it was not immediately clear how many attackers managed to penetrate the campus. Television footage showed a heavy military presence at the university, troops rushing in and people fleeing. Ambulances were at the scene and the wounded were taken to hospital. A witness, botany teacher Mohammad Ishtiaq, said he jumped from the second floor of the building when he heard gunshots and broke his leg. Two attackers were on first floor and three on the ground floor, he said, adding that they were using automatic assault rifles.

“I locked myself in a washroom,” he said. “I jumped out when I saw one of the attackers coming toward me and shooting straight ahead of him.”

Prime minister Sharif vowed to fight to the end and destroy the Taleban and other militants. “We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland,” Mr Sharif said.

A Taleban leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility for the attack. Mansoor, who was the mastermind behind the Peshawar school attack, said a four-man Taleban team carried out the assault. He said it was in revenge for the scores of militants the Pakistani security forces have killed in recent months.

However, a spokesman for the main Taleban faction in Pakistan later disowned the group behind the attack, describing the assault as “un-Islamic”.

Mohammad Khurasani also denied earlier reports that he had endorsed Mansoor’s claim and said that those who carried out such attacks would be tried before an Islamic, or Sharia court.

Such statements from among the Taleban are not uncommon since the group has many loosely linked factions and is indicative of the deep divisions and splits among the insurgents.

The Bacha Khan University is named after Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, founder of a liberal, pacificist party. The Pakistani Taleban have targeted it for its anti-militant policies.