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Pakistan Mourns After Taliban School Attack

Pakistani schoolchildren in Karachi pray for pupils who were killed in a Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar.
Pakistani schoolchildren in Karachi pray for pupils who were killed in a Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar.

Pakistan has begun three days of national mourning for the 132 children and nine school staff killed in a Taliban attack.

In and around the northwestern city of Peshawar on December 17, mourners gathered around coffins for the funerals of the victims, after people across the country staged overnight vigils.

The 141 people were killed when militants stormed an army-run school in Peshawar on December 16 in one the country's deadliest terror attacks.

The army said it was carried out by seven gunmen, all wearing bomb vests, who systematically went from room to room shooting pupils and teachers.

The siege at the school, which teaches boys and girls from both military and civilian backgrounds, lasted eight hours.

A total of 125 people were wounded before the attackers were killed.

A Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman who called himself Muhammad Khorasani phoned an RFE/RL Radio Mashaal correspondent and claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retaliation for the Pakistani military operation in the northwestern tribal areas.

The Pakistani military says it has killed more than 1,100 Islamist militants in North Waziristan since it launched an offensive there in June using air strikes, artillery, mortar fire and ground troops.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a moratorium on the death penalty on December 17.

He traveled to Peshawar a day earlier and announced a three-day mourning period across the country.

Sharif pledged to avenge a "national tragedy unleashed by savages." "These were my children. This is my loss. This is the nation's loss."

He also called on all parliamentary parties to gather in Peshawar later on December 17 for a conference to discuss the region's security issues.

The military response to the attack is already reported to have begun.

In a tweet, army spokesman Asim Bajwa announced that 10 air strikes had been carried out against militants in the Khyber region.

The school attack sparked condemnation worldwide.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was "an act of horror and rank cowardice."

U.S. President Barack Obama said terrorists had "once again shown their depravity" and reiterated support for the Pakistani government's efforts to combat extremism and terrorism.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed "shock" at the attack, which she said shows "how strong the threat posed by the Taliban still is and how fragile and dangerous the situation in the region remains."

President Ashraf Ghani of neighboring Afghanistan said, "The killing of innocent children is contrary to Islam."

The Afghanistan Taliban also condemned the attack, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying, “The intentional killing of innocent people, children and women is against the basics of Islam."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his country's "deepest condolences."

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a native of Pakistan, said she was "heartbroken" by what she called a "senseless and cold-blooded act of terror."

With reporting by the AFP, Reuters and AP