Pakistani officials say the siege of a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar has ended after at least 140 people were killed — most of them children — and 120 wounded.
After more than eight hours, military officials said, the operation at the school is over and that nine militants had been killed.
General Asim Bajwa, the military spokesman, told journalists in Peshawar that 132 pupils and nine staff members were killed in the eight-hour onslaught.
"Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids. That's what they did," he said.
Bajwa said all seven attackers were killed. Some of them detonated their explosive vests while others were killed by Pakistani special forces.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack that happened at a military-run high school when militants entered the school and began their slaughter.
The Army Public School is located inside the military garrison in Peshawar, capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani said his group launched the attack as retaliation for the Pakistani military operation in the northwestern tribal areas, an area known as a haven for militant groups.
"We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females," Khorasani said.
Reuters quoted Khorasani as saying, "We want them to feel the pain."
Kohorasani's statement appeared to contradict his earlier remarks, when he had told Reuters that the attackers had "instructions not to harm the children but to target the army personnel."
Witnesses spoke of an indiscriminate slaughter as militants opened fire in classrooms.
A student in 10th grade, who gave his name as Ebad, said he had seen dozens of schoolmates killed.
"It was 10:30 this morning when we were called to the auditorium to get first-aid training by an army colonel. When we arrived, firing started, and they entered the auditorium,” he said of the attackers. "They killed ... many students. I saw about 40 to 50 students killed in front of me, and they fired on the colonel."
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif traveled to Peshawar and announced a three-day mourning period across the country.
"This is a national tragedy unleashed by savages. These were my children," Sharif said in a statement.
Speaking after arriving in Peshawar, Sharif said Pakistan will continue to fight terrorism.
He called on all political parties represented in parliament to gather in Peshawar on December 17 for an emergency special conference to discuss the region's security issues.
Reactions poured in from around the world following the attack.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the attack as "an act of horror and rank cowardice."
U.S. President Barack Obama has condemned what he called a "heinous attack" on the Pakistani school.
The White House said in a statement that Obama reiterated support for the Pakistani government's efforts "to combat extremism and terrorism."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in London the attack "angers and shakes the world" and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
President Ashraf Ghani of neighboring Afghanistan said in a statement, "The killing of innocent children is contrary to Islam."
French President Francois Hollande condemned what he described as a "vile" attack and pledged support for Pakistan's government in the fight "against terrorism."
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany condemned the attack "in the sharpest possible terms."
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."
David Griffiths, Amnesty International's deputy director for Asia-Pacific, said, "There can be absolutely no justification for targeting children in this way."
Based on reporting Reuters, AP and AFP