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Students And Teachers Killed In Attack On Pakistani University

Rescuers move an injured man into a hospital following the attack on Bacha Khan university in Charsadda on January 20.
Rescuers move an injured man into a hospital following the attack on Bacha Khan university in Charsadda on January 20.

Militants stormed a university in northwestern Pakistan, shooting students in their sleep during an assault that left at least 20 people dead and more than 50 others wounded.

The early-morning attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province revived memories of a December 2014 assault on an army-run school in the provincial capital, Peshawar, in which 144 students and staff were killed.

The alleged mastermind of the 2014 attack claimed his splinter group of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Pakistan's Taliban, was responsible for the January 20 assault on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, 17 kilometers northeast of Peshawar.

A TTP spokesman condemned the attack as “un-Islamic."

Intense gunfire and several explosions were heard as security guards fought the attackers, who apparently climbed over a university wall under cover of the thick winter fog.

Regional police chief Saeed Wazir said most of the student victims were shot dead at a hostel for boys on the campus.At least one university teacher was also among the dead.

The army said it had concluded operations to clear the Bacha Khan University campus six hours after the attack began, and that four gunmen were killed.

It was unclear whether the death toll included the four militants.

In a statement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said his government is "determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland."

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.

According to Fazal Haq, a student from the university’s department of geology, students were still lying in their beds in the hostel when the attackers struck.

“They were knocking on each door and whoever opened the door, they shot him,” Haq told Radio Mashaal.“Most of our friends were shot while they were sleeping in their beds."

“We were so much scared and took shelter under the beds, but the army came too late almost after an hour. Police also came late. Our security was very weak,” he added.

"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 Radio Mashaal. “Maybe, the police were supposed to come later."

Umar Mansoor, a TTP splinter group commander who authorities believe was behind the December 2014 school attack in Peshawar, said the attack on Bacha Khan University was a response to a military offensive against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

He said four suicide attackers from the group were involved.

Muhammad Khorasani, a spokesman for the TTP’s central leadership, condemned the attack in an e-mail sent to Radio Mashaal. He said the group does not target civilian schools.

"TTP strongly condemns today's attack and disassociates itself completely from this un-Islamic attack," Khorasani also said on Twitter.

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.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa