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January 21, 2016

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Terrorists hit Bacha Khan University

Professor, students among 20 killed, 35 injured in Charsadda attack; all four attackers shot dead; threats, rumours of attacks on educational institutions in KP had been doing rounds for last couple of days; TTP denies but its commander claims responsibility for deadly attack

By Sabz Ali Tareen &
Javed Aziz Khan

CHARSADDA: In yet another brazen attack, terrorists stormed the Bacha Khan University here on Wednesday, killing at least 20 students and staff members, including a professor, and causing injuries to 35 others.

Eyewitnesses said the four attackers broke into the university from the back by using the sugarcane fields as a cover. They cut the barbed-wire that fenced the university perimeter and then shot dead a security guard. The militants made it to the hostels and other buildings amid thick fog and began killing people randomly.

“The police, army personnel and security guards on duty responded promptly to engage the attackers. However, the terrorists kept hiding and hurling grenades while taking advantage of the thick fog,” Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Mardan Range, Mohammad Saeed Wazir, who led the operation, told The News. He added that 20 people were confirmed dead in the attack while 17 others were wounded.

The spokesman for Rescue 1122, however, said the number of wounded taken to the District Headquarters Hospital in Charsadda and the Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar was 35.

“Our cops fought bravely to shoot dead all the four attackers one by one. They were wearing suicide jackets but none of them could succeed in blowing himself up,” DIG Police Saeed Wazir maintained.

However, he said the attackers hurled a number of hand-grenades from the rooftop where they kept hiding for long.

Police from Nowshera, Mardan and other places also took part in the operation at the university. The army too was deployed to undertake action against the terrorists. Armoured personnel carriers and helicopters assisted the security personnel fighting inside the university.

There was panic in the vicinity of the Bacha Khan University, named after the late freedom-fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Bacha Khan, as word spread that terrorists had entered the university premises. Family members of the students, teachers and other university employees gathered outside the premises as they frantically made enquiries about their loved ones. It was an agonising wait for all of them and parents were seen hugging and kissing their children as soon as they were rescued by the army and police from inside the campus. Many
broke down after hugging their children.

Several burqa-clad women looking for their sons, daughters and other relatives working at the university were also seen waiting outside the campus when the operation against the attackers was underway.

It may be added that threats and rumours of attacks on educational institutions in Peshawar and other cities and towns were doing the rounds for the last couple of days. It isn’t clear if this was conveyed to the administration of Bacha Khan University and other educational institutions and whether the security there was upgraded.

Among the dead was Assistant Professor Hamid Hussain. Eyewitnesses said Hamid Hussain, who worked in the Chemistry Department of the university, fired at the attackers with his pistol before he was martyred.

Some of the other slain persons were identified as Said Kamal, Shahzad, Mohammad Kamal, Niamat Khan, Haider Ali, Sajid Hussain, Ilyas, Fakhar Alam, Rehmanullah, Siddiqullah and Abdul Hameed.

Sajid Hussain, a final semester student at the Chemistry Department, had spoken on phone to his friends and told them that terrorists had entered their hostel and he and other students were unlikely to survive. His last words proved true as he was martyred. There was gloom in his village, Korea, in Buner District when his body was taken there for burial.

Among the injured were Mohammad Iqbal, Zakir Hussain, Mohammad Ishaq, Tasbihullah, Khizar Hayat, Junaid, Ihsanullah, Asim, Khalid Hassan, Iftikhar and Shahzad.

The university Vice-Chancellor, Dr Fazal Rahim Marwat, was on his way to the university when the attack took place. He later spoke to reporters and gave them an update on the situation. He said poets had arrived or were on their way to the university to take part in a Mushaira and there was concern about their safety also.

The government has announced three-day mourning following the tragic incident.“Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has also reached home from abroad after the incident,” Shoaibuddin, Director Information, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told The News.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan, Corps Commander Peshawar Lt Gen Hidayatur Rehman, Chief Secretary Amjad Ali Khan, Inspector General of Police Nasir Khan Durrani and a number of ministers rushed to the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda after the attack to show solidarity with the students and teachers and the security personnel who took part in the operation against the terrorists.

Imran Khan and the army chief also visited the hospital and enquired after the health of those wounded.“The police and army did a great job otherwise the casualties would have been higher,” Imran Khan told newsmen while condemning the attack.

The army chief later chaired a high-level security conference in Peshawar. The concerned officials, including senior personnel of intelligence agencies, attended the meeting.

The incident was the third major attack in the province in the last almost three weeks after the suicide attack in Mardan on December 29 and another in Jamrud in Khyber Agency on the edge of the Karkhano Market in Peshawar on January 19.

Meanwhile, some confusion was created, perhaps deliberately, when the mainstream Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by the Afghanistan-based Maulana Fazlullah claimed it had no role in the terrorist attack on the Bacha Khan University while one of its most important commanders, Omar Mansoor, accepted responsibility for the assault.

The TTP issued a statement through its spokesman Mohammad Khorasani to condemn the attack and announce its dissociation from those who launched it and used the name of TTP to claim responsibility for the assault. The spokesman termed the attack un-Islamic and argued that the students of non-military educational institutions were part of their ‘Jihadi’ movement and future builders of Pakistan and Ummah and needed to be protected. He said the TTP head, Maulana Fazlullah Khorasani, didn’t approve the attack and condemned it.

The TTP commander, whose original name is Aurangzeb but now calls himself Khalifa Omar Mansoor, reportedly phoned the BBC Urdu to claim responsibility for the attack. He said it was carried out by the TTP’s Peshawar and Darra Adamkhel branches. He added that the attack on the university was to send a message to Pakistan’s political leadership while the earlier one on the Army Public School, Peshawar, was to warn the country’s military.

It may be added that Khalifa Omar Mansoor, who belongs to Adezai village in Peshawar district and is also based in Afghanistan, had also claimed responsibility for the horrendous assault on the APS on December 16, 2014 in which 147 persons, including 122 schoolchildren, were killed. He had also claimed responsibility for the attack last year on the Pakistan Air Force base in Badaber near Peshawar.

He had been loyal to Maulana Fazlullah and was part of the TTP, but it is unclear why the TTP leadership was now disowning the attack on the Bacha Khan University, which was commissioned in Charsadda in 2012.

Meanwhile, the splinter faction of the Afghan Taliban, headed by Mulla Mohammad Rasool, in a statement strongly condemned the attack on the Bacha Khan University and stressed that Islam doesn’t approve of such attacks in which the blood of innocent people is shed. It said Mulla Rasool and the members of the “Aali Shura” (High Council) is clearly against such attacks and cannot support them. It termed those killed as martyrs and prayed to Allah to bless their souls in the Heavens, give recovery to the injured and patience to the families to bear the loss.

Meanwhile, the Awami National Party has announced 10-day mourning due to the attack on the Bacha Khan University and decided to hoist black flags on all party offices and cancel the meetings that were scheduled to be held on the anniversaries of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, commonly known as Bacha Khan and Khan Abdul Wali Khan.

The KP Bar Council asked lawyers not to appear in courts today to show solidarity with the Bacha Khan University. It also announced three-day mourning for the victims of the terrorist attack.

Reuters adds: A security official said the death toll could rise to as high as 40 at Bacha Khan University in the city of Charsadda. The army said it had concluded operations to clear the campus six hours after the attack began, and that four gunmen were dead. Many of the dead were apparently shot in the head execution-style, TV footage showed.

The militants scaled the walls of the university on Wednesday morning, police said.Students told the media they saw several young men wielding AK-47 guns storming the university housing where many students were sleeping.

“They came from behind and there was a big commotion,” an unnamed male student told a news channel from a hospital bed in Charsadda´s District Hospital. “We were told by teachers to leave immediately. Some people hid in bathrooms.”

Vice Chancellor Fazal Rahim told reporters that the university teaches over 3,000 students and was hosting an additional 600 visitors for the poetry recital.

Umar Mansoor, a senior Pakistani Taliban commander involved in the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, claimed responsibility for the Charsadda assault and said it involved four of his men.

He told Reuters by telephone the university was targeted because it was a government institution that supported the army.

However, later in the day, official Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khorasani issued a written statement disassociating the militants from the attack, calling it un-Islamic.“Youth who are studying in non-military institutions, we consider them as builders of the future nation and we consider their safety and protection our duty,” the statement said.

Shabir Khan, a lecturer in the English department, said he was about to leave his university housing for the department when firing began. “Most of the students and staff were in classes when the firing began,” Khan said.

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