Nearly 21 people were killed and wounded when Taliban gunmen hopped a wall and entered a university in northern Pakistan on Wednesday and began firing into the crowds. At least four gunmen were also killed in the attack on Bacha Khan University, which serves 3,000 students in Charsadda, near the city of Peshawar. The attack started with explosions and broke out as hundreds of people were attending a poetry recital.
After security forces combed the campus block by block after the massacre, Mehmood Khan, provincial home minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said 19 civilians were killed, along with four terrorists. He expects the number of civilian deaths to increase. The attack took place at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, Peshawar, less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) from where the Pakistan Taliban slayed 145 people, including 132 children, in a school attack in December 2014.
One Pakistan Taliban spokesman, Umar Mansoor, said the attack was in retaliation for military operations against the group. Mansoor was also the mastermind behind the December 2014 attack, Pakistan’s DawnNews reported. The militant group is riven with divisions since its spokesman and a handful of commanders pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014, according to Alex Kassirer of global security firm and NBC News consultant Flashpoint Intelligence.
Despite the conflicting statements from the Pakistan Taliban over responsibility, analysts say the attack probably is the work of the terror group. According to one of the students, the attackers were in his own age group. Pakistan’s minister of state education, Muhammad Baligh Ur Rehman, told CNN that security in the region was heightened because of intelligence of a potential attack in tribal areas. The added security at the event helped keep the attackers confined to one side of the university, he said.
This is part of attacks we have been going through, but the good thing is the frequency with which it was happening has been reduced in a big way, and land for these terrorists has been shrunk in an unprecedented manner. We are constantly in this military operation against the terrorists, and they are on the run.”
Ambulances swarmed to the campus. As rescuers rushed to put people on stretchers, injured people who could stand on their own walked past them in the opposite direction. The past few days have seen an increase in militancy in the region, including an attack on a checkpoint in Khyber Agency, a region west of Peshawar that borders Afghanistan, where 10 people were killed and 36 others injured.