CHARSADDA, Pakistan -- Police in Pakistan say a militant assault on a university in northwestern Pakistan has left at least 21 people dead, including students and staff.
Nearly three hours after the January 20 attack began, regional police chief Saeed Wazir said the operation against the militants had ended and security forces continued to search the Bacha Khan University campus.
Soldiers later chased two armed men outside the campus in Charsadda, about 17 kilometers northeast of the provincial capital, Peshawar.
The identity of the militants was not immediately known.
A commander of a breakaway faction of Pakistan's Taliban, known as the Darra Admhkhel Group, claimed responsibility for the attack.
But a spokesman for Pakistan's Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), later condemned the assault.
Wazir said most of the student victims were shot dead at a hostel for boys on the campus.
He did not specify whether the death toll included four gunmen that the army said it had killed.
In a statement after the end of the operation was announced, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said his government is "determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland."
A provincial official at the scene of the violence, Shaukat Yousufzai, said at least 50 people were wounded.
Intense gunfire and several explosions were heard during the attack, which began in the early morning when militants opened fire on students and teachers at the computer science and management sciences facilities.
“Police usually come [to the university] in the morning for security with their vehicle and they were usually on main gate. But I couldn’t see them today,” assistant professor Abbas Ali told RFE/RL. “Maybe, the police were supposed to come later.”
A TTP commander, Umar Mansoor, said the attack was a response to a military offensive against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Her said four suicide attackers from the group were involved.
However, Muhammad Khorasani, a spokesman for the TTP, condemned the attack in an e-mail sent to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. He said the group does not target civilian schools. But in separate statements to AP, Khorasani did claim responsibility for the atttack.
Mansoor was the mastermind of an attack on a school for children of Pakistani military forces that killed 144 students and staff in Peshawar in December 2014.
Bacha Khan University, established in 2012, is named after Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan, the leader of a nonviolent Pashtun movement.
The attack occurred on the 28th anniversary of his death.
In the 1930s, Khan launched the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement (Servants of God) to reform the stagnant Pashtun society and to mobilize Pashtuns to struggle for their rights against British imperial rule in the Indian subcontinent through peaceful agitation.
Fazlur Rahim Marwat, the vice-chancellor or head of the university, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that about 3,000 students are enrolled at the school.
He said the university also employs about 600 teachers and staff.
The violence comes as Pakistani military forces continue a campaign against Pakistani Taliban and other militants in tribal areas neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and Afghanistan.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa