At least four gunmen entered Bacha Khan University, located in the town of Charsadda in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing at least 21 and wounding 50 to 60 students and faculty members, according to local media reports.
The attack began around 9:30 am local time when militants wearing black turbans cut through a back fence (some accounts state that they scaled a university wall) in the cover of thick morning fog. They then opened fire on students near a boy’s hostel while shouting “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.” Ashfaq Ahmad, a security officer of the university, told the Washington Post that the attackers “were restricted to the boy’s hostel when security guards opened fire on them.”
“The attackers cut the barbed wire and jumped into the campus. Our guards engaged them and they did not reach the girl’s hostel and main administration block,” he added. Most of the victims appear to have been male students, but also included a senior faculty member, a cook, and up to four security guards.
Some of the militants appear to also have made it into one of the administration buildings and classrooms.Raza Mohammed Khan, deputy superintendent of the police in Charsadda, said that no more gunmen remain inside the university. The Pakistani Army said that clearance operations have ended.
There have been conflicting reports about the number of militants involved in the attack. Pakistani media quotes intelligence sources who claim eight to ten gunmen, between 18 and 25 years old, wearing suicide vests entered the college campus.
Four militants have been confirmed killed before they could detonate their suicide vests, according to a military spokesperson. “The attackers were like us ─ they were very young. They carried AK-47 guns. They wore jackets like the forces do… We were in the [boy’s] hostel sleeping as we don’t have classes. There are no classes at the university currently, there may be around 200-300 students in the hostel,” an eyewitness told Dawn newspaper.
The university, founded in 2012, is home to around 3,000 students and is named after Bacha Khan, a Pashtun nationalist leader. Khan was the founder of Pakistan’s Awami National Party and advocated nonviolent means to oppose British rule in South Asia, for which he has been called “the frontier Gandhi.” Wednesday was the 28th anniversary of Khan’s death and the university hosted a poetry recital in his honor, with 600 external visitors in attendance.
A local Taliban faction, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Geedar group, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Umar Mansoor, a Taliban leader allegedly responsible for the December 2014 attack on a military-run school in Peshawar that killed 145 people, said in a statement that “[w]e have sent four suicide attackers and they have killed dozens of people. This is a message to the Pakistani army and civilian leadership, who have executed 130 mujahideen, our people. We will carry out more attacks to take revenge on them.”
However, Mohammad Khorasani, a Taliban spokesperson contradicted Umar Mansoor in statement, saying that the attack on the university campus was “against Shariah,” according to Dawn. He also said that those “using the name of TTP will be brought to justice.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a stern statement from Zurich, Switzerland where he is attending the World Economic Forum: “Those killing innocent students and citizens have no faith and religion. We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also issued a statement strongly condemning the terror attack and offering “condolences to families of the deceased.”