Thursday, 18 December 2014

Pakistan school attacked by Taliban

Massacre of the innocents
Taleban militants gun down 123 schoolchildren in Pakistan
The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2014

PESHAWAR - More than 120 students were mowed down by gunfire as Taleban militants unleashed a cold-blooded attack on an army-run school in this north-western Pakistani city.

Witnesses yesterday described how a huge blast shook the Army Public School and gunmen went from classroom to classroom, shooting students and staff.

The militants appeared intent on killing as many students as possible, instead of taking hostages - as was initially reported.

All six gunmen were eventually killed by the military, but not before the carnage had left 123 male students and nine staff dead. Another 114 people were injured.

The Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack as retaliation for a major military offensive in the region, saying militants had been ordered to shoot older students.

"We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families," said a Taleban spokesman. "We want them to feel the pain."

Many of the dead students were children of army personnel, whose fathers are involved in the offensive against militants.

The attack began at around 10.30am local time (1.30pm in Singapore) when some people were seen scaling the school wall.

"We thought it must be the children playing some game," said a school worker. "But then, we saw a lot of firearms with them."

The gunmen then went into the school's classrooms and laboratories, gunning down everyone before them.

When some teachers tried to lock the classroom doors, the gunmen smashed them down and went looking for the children.

Students hid under benches, but 16-year-old Shahrukh Khan recalled seeing a pair of "big, black boots" walking towards them. He was shot in both legs but survived by playing dead.

Bodies littered the corridors. One wounded girl also survived by playing dead, surrounded by the bodies of her classmates.

Distraught parents thronged the city's Lady Reading Hospital in the wake of the attack, weeping uncontrollably as children's bodies arrived, their school uniforms drenched in blood.

Parent Irshadah Bibi, 40, whose 12-year-old son was among the dead, beat her face in grief, throwing herself against an ambulance. "O God, why did you snatch away my son? What is the sin of my child and all these children?" she wept.

The siege ended after seven hours when all attackers were killed by army men who had surrounded the school.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the attack as a "national tragedy unleashed by savages".

The world at large reacted in horror, with many nations offering support to the people of Pakistan.

"By targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once again shown their depravity," said United States President Barack Obama.

The school is part of the Army Public Schools and Colleges System, which runs 146 schools nationwide for the children of military personnel and civilians. The children are aged from 10 to 18.

Said retired general and security analyst Talat Masood: "The militants know they won't be able to strike at the heart of the military... so they are going for soft targets."


Singapore leaders express shock and sadness at Peshawar school attack
The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2014

A day after a group of gunmen massacred 132 children and nine staff in a school in Peshawar, Singapore's leaders expressed their shock and sadness at Pakistan's worst insurgent attack in years.

In a letter to Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore "strongly condemns this dastardly act of terror which has killed so many innocent young people".

Adding that he was "deeply saddened" to learn that many of the victims were students, Mr Lee said the incident "is a painful reminder of why we are fighting against the terrorist cause, and why we must remain vigilant and resolute in this long battle".

"I am confident that Pakistan will face this tragedy with fortitude, and in time prevail against the forces of darkness and evil," he added. He also offered his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and the Pakistani people.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Lee had noted on Facebook that the Peshawar attack came just a day after a gunman held 17 people hostage in a cafe in downtown Sydney, which led to three deaths including that of the gunman.

"Singaporeans know Sydney better than Peshawar, so the Sydney incident feels closer to home," he said.

"But when innocent children are brutally murdered like this our hearts go out to their families."

Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam also had strong words in reaction to the Peshawar attack.

"To target innocent children is abhorrent and cowardly. I can't understand what can make people kill innocent children," he said in a post on Facebook on Wednesday.

"Many of us will share the anguish of the families affected and my heart goes out to them."

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean expressed his sadness at the "tragic loss of innocent and young lives in Peshawar and Sydney."

In a Facebook post, he added: I hope that our prayers and thoughts can bring some comfort to their families and loved ones."

Militants combed classrooms to shoot students
Survivors relate harrowing accounts of the blood and carnage
The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2014

PESHAWAR - The four gunmen wearing paramilitary uniforms burst into the Army Public School auditorium when Shahrukh Khan and his classmates were in the middle of a career guidance session.

"Allahu akbar (God is great)!" the men shouted, as they began opening fire on the students, who screamed and scrambled for cover below the desks.

"'There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them,'" Khan, 16, recalled one gunman saying, as he related the horror that unfolded in yesterday's brazen attack by Taleban militants on a school in north- west Pakistan.

"I saw a pair of big, black boots coming towards me. This guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches," Khan told Agence France-Presse.

He then felt searing pain, as he was shot in both legs just below the knees. He decided to play dead. "I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn't scream.

"The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again.

"My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me - I felt as though it was death that was approaching me."

Khan's experience was just one of several harrowing first-hand accounts related, after one of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan.

Witnesses described how the gunmen went from classroom to classroom shooting students, even as police outside struggled to hold back distraught parents, who were trying to break past a cordon and get to their children.

Aamir Ali was sitting in a corridor at the school when he first heard the sound of gunfire, Pakistan's Express Tribune reported. The second-year engineering student immediately got up and ran together with 10 of his classmates, looking for a classroom to hide in.

But the militants chased them down and told them to say their final prayers. Ali was the only person in his group to survive the attack.

The Tribune quoted another student describing the scene as they were being rescued by the army.

"When we were coming out of the (classroom), we saw the dead bodies of our friends lying in the corridors," the student said.

"They were bleeding. Some were shot three times, some four times."

The Army Public School is attended by boys and girls from both military and civilian backgrounds.

As Khan's father comforted him in his blood-soaked hospital bed, the teenager recalled seeing the dead body of the school's office assistant on fire, in the room next to the one where he was shot.

"She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned," he said.

At the Lady Reading Hospital where Khan was recovering, many distraught parents wept uncontrollably as the children's bodies arrived, their school uniforms drenched in blood.

Ms Irshadah Bibi, 40, whose 12-year-old son was among the dead, beat her face in grief, throwing herself against an ambulance, the Tribune reported.

"O God, why did you snatch away my son?" she said, weeping.

"What is the sin of my child and all these children?"

Terror strike condemned as act of cowardice
The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2014

NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned an attack by Taleban militants yesterday on an army-run school in neighbouring Pakistan that killed more than 130 people - most of them children.

"Strongly condemn the cowardly terrorist attack at a school in Peshawar," he tweeted.

"It is a senseless act of unspeakable brutality that has claimed lives of the most innocent of human beings - young children in their school."

The Prime Minister added: "My heart goes out to everyone who lost their loved ones today. We share their pain & offer our deepest condolences."

Other leading nations also condemned the attack by Taleban gunmen who stormed the school, taking hundreds of students hostage in the bloodiest insurgent attack in the country in years.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a statement, condemned the "criminal attack in the strongest terms".

"The hostage-taking and murder of children exceeds in its cruel cowardice all that Pakistan, stricken by years of terror and violence, has known before," he said.

Witnesses described how a huge blast shook the Army Public School in Peshawar and gunmen went from classroom to classroom, shooting children.

The Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack as retaliation for a major military offensive in the region, saying militants had been ordered to shoot older students.

French President Francois Hollande condemned what he described as a "vile" attack on the school. "No words can express the ignominy of such an attack against children in their school," he said.

Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taleban in 2012, also spoke out against the killings.

"I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold-blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us. Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this," she said in a statement.

Seventeen-year-old Malala, who now lives in Britain, became a global icon after she was nearly killed by the Taleban in her native Pakistan for insisting that girls had a right to an education.


Death penalty ban lifted for terror-related cases
The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2014

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan is to end its moratorium on the death penalty in terror-related cases, the Prime Minister's Office announced yesterday, a day after Taleban militants killed 148 people in an attack on a school.

The assault on the army-run school in the north-western city of Peshawar, the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan's history, has triggered widespread revulsion.

Political and military leaders have vowed to wipe out the homegrown Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of ordinary Pakistanis in recent years.

"The Prime Minister has approved abolishment of the moratorium on the execution of death penalty in terrorism-related cases," an official from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office said.

Hanging remains on the Pakistani statute book and judges continue to pass the death sentence, but a de facto moratorium on civilian executions has been in place since 2008.

Only one person has been executed since then - a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.

Supporters of the death penalty in Pakistan argue that it is the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy.


Pakistan weeps over a tragedy too familiar
Time for country to tackle 'mainstream extremism' at its roots
By Ravi Velloor, Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2014

LIKE the apples in the lush orchards of Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunwa province, winter is the time the cheeks of the young take on an especially rosy hue.

On Tuesday afternoon, however, the colour marking the faces of many of the slain and wounded children of the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Khyber-Pakhtunwa province, was the crimson hue of blood.

They were shot in the head mostly, some while at play and others in their classrooms, the gruesome tragedy taking more than 140 lives - 132 of them children - marking a horrific moment even for a nation that is inured to extravagant violence.

"The smaller the coffin, the heavier it is to carry," said Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, echoing the sentiments of 182 million Pakistanis.

How did it get this way?

The annals of South Asia's tortured history are replete with Frankenstein's monsters that have turned to stalk the shadows that once protected them.

India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was murdered by her Sikh bodyguards reacting to the Indian army's attack on the Golden Temple to put down the insurrection led by a militant Sikh preacher. He had earlier been secretly backed by her Congress party government to weaken the regional party ruling Punjab state.

In Sri Lanka, President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers even after he had slipped them money and arms in resentment against the Indian Peace Keeping Force that had entered the island to control Tamil separatism on the invitation of his predecessor.

The Tigers, who subsequently also killed Mr Rajiv Gandhi, Indira's son who succeeded her as premier, was one of many Tamil groups that had once been trained by India to pressure Colombo against excessive US influence in Sri Lanka.

Likewise, Nepal's kings fed the Maoists to keep democratic forces at bay, then saw the rebels gain power and close down the monarchy in 2008.

But no nation has paid for its short-sightedness like Pakistan, where some 25,000 have perished in terror-related violence in the past 12 years.

The Pakistani deep state - its intelligence and security apparatus - has often used irregulars and "non-state actors" to further its strategic ends. This has held true since Pakistan's birth as an independent nation in 1947, when it immediately went to war with India over control of Kashmir.

In the mid-1980s, though, it reached a fever pitch when Islamabad colluded with the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States to channel funds and weapons to the Afghan mujahideen fighting to overthrow the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Once the larger goal was accomplished, rival ideologies and priorities surfaced.

Today, more than 30 militant groups operate on its soil, and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was nailed by US Special Forces in Abbotabad, a garrison town in Khyber-Pakhtunwa.

Some, like the Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT), the group that mounted the 2008 terror attack on Indian financial capital Mumbai, have indisputable state backing - its leader, Hafeez Saeed, travels openly in the country, delivering fiery speeches.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency uses groups like LeT and the Afghan Taleban to further its strategic objectives in India and Afghanistan.

Others, not easily controlled and who have turned against the state, are hunted by the authorities. At the moment, at the top of that pile are the Pakistani Taleban, a group said to be influenced by Al-Qaeda and, more recently, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, the Pakistani Taleban called the school attack a reprisal for the military's move against its cadres.

Yet that is only one part of the story.

The other is one that Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousufzai recognised when the Taleban bullets went through her face: The crazed men know that no educated mother would encourage her son to be a suicide bomber. And that's bad for their business.

Pakistan's tragedy is that even as most of its Muslims are moderates, they've been increasingly on the back foot because a weakened state has not been able to guarantee their safety.

In January 2011, Mr Salman Taseer, the serving governor of the country's populous Punjab province, was murdered by his bodyguard, who resented Mr Taseer's opposition to a blasphemy law that would have unfairly condemned a Christian woman.

When the assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was produced in court, some lawyers showered rose petals on him. Mr Taseer's funeral was largely boycotted. The anti-terrorism court judge who sentenced Qadri to death had to flee the country.

Qadri remains in prison where, two months ago, he influenced the execution of another inmate by his jailor.

It also has not helped that some of the nation's most popular public figures, like cricket legend Imran Khan, try to keep on the right side of the militants by criticising the military's approach.

"The problem with Khan, for all of us, is as simple as it is ugly: He has mainstreamed extremism," respected columnist Cyril Almeida complained recently in the Dawn newspaper.

But Pakistan has no option but to attack this canker at its roots, if only to save itself.

As Pakistani scholar and former diplomat Hussain Haqqani commented yesterday, the attack in Peshawar shows the futility of attacking one group of militants while leaving others in place.

This week's savagery may thus be the catalyst for the Pakistani establishment to introspect deeply about the way ahead.

If he can win the cooperation of the deep state, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may just be the man for the job.

In early 2008, shortly after the assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto, this writer stood at the corner of a stage where Mr Sharif, then attempting a comeback, was addressing an election rally in the town of Chakwal.

Around the grounds were water tanks on which hundreds had perched for a better view. Perimeter security was poor. Yet Mr Sharif stood on stage, shirt buttons undone to show he wore no bulletproof vest. It was an act of bravado and typical of the elan that Pakistanis, particularly in Punjab, tend to sport.

Mr Sharif now has to display the same machismo to take on the tormentors trying to wreck his nation.

When children become the targets of terrorism...
The morality of terrorists has gone from bad to worse with the advent of Al-Qaeda. They are ready to kill anyone to be taken seriously. US Correspondent Melissa Sim talks to experts
The Sunday Times, 21 Dec 2014

...the world recoils and takes notice.

Last week, Taleban terrorists stormed an army-run school in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing at least 132 children and committing one of the deadliest attacks against children in recent years.

The incident adds to a decade of terrorist activities which are becoming more cold-blooded and wanton than ever before and are particularly targeted at children, say historians and criminology experts.

These innocent lives, they say, are regarded by every culture as worth protecting, which makes them the prime targets of modern-era terrorists who are out to make the most impact possible with their acts of violence.

"Terrorists are looking for something of value that they can strike... targeting children is something that really hurts," said Professor Emerita of History Anna Geifman of Boston University, who is also senior researcher at the political studies department at Bar Ilan University in Israel.

"Terrorists want to show that they are willing to do anything so... we should take them seriously," added Professor Laura Dugan from the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland.

Previously, terrorists "had their own code of how to behave", said criminal justice administration professor Gus Martin of California State University.

American terrorists, he said, would plant bombs and dial ahead so buildings could be evacuated, or Pakistani hijackers would free captives before blowing up the plane.

But that morality began to shift in the 1990s, especially with the appearance of groups like Al-Qaeda; and on Sept 11, "a new era had dawned", said Prof Martin.

"Now the moral compass has completely changed - many of these groups have no hesitation in killing as many as possible."

Prof Geifman, who has written a book on terrorism called Death Orders, added that after the 9/11 attacks, terrorists had to look for the next "sensational and impressive" act of violence, and that was when they turned to children.

One of the most notorious acts of terrorism targeted at children was the school attack and hostage-taking in Beslan, Russia in 2004.

Rebels took over the school for three days and held 1,200 students, teachers and parents hostage in the school gym. They turned it into a death camp, denying children food and water.

Many died when a bomb was detonated in the building, while others were shot by the rebels as they tried to escape.

According to reports, more than 700 were wounded and more than 300 died - 186 of them children.

Prof Dugan said attacks on educational institutions "started increasing dramatically" that year. And in the years after, it "becomes clear that schools that are targeted have young children attending them".

The proliferation of child victims could also have to do with terrorist groups copying each other, said experts. Prof Dugan said such trends have emerged before: "Suicide attacks have spread across groups since the early 1980s... another example is airline hijacking in the late 1960s and early 1970s."

In the case of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that kidnapped nearly 300 girls in Nigeria in April - and another batch of at least 185 a week ago - the attacks are a statement against Western education and the education of women. It believes that women should be at home raising children and looking after their husbands instead of getting educated.

Some of these women are "kidnapped and sold into slavery", said Prof Martin.

Another explanation for targeting children is to make a "counterculture" statement, said Prof Geifman.

"Whatever is precious in the other culture, they will try to negate and destroy."

She said that many terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, have a culture of revering death, whereas society in general "chooses life".

When they kill children, "they destroy the most precious symbol of life because there is nothing more alive than a child".

Many of these groups also believe killing these children is done with the blessing of their god.

Said Prof Martin: "They feel if they do god's work they will be clean and god favours this type of behaviour."

While governments work to stop these acts of terror, the man in the street also has a responsibility to stand up to such acts, said experts. Prof Geifman believes that while children are the immediate targets, ultimately the terrorist group is signalling to the public at large that the group should be feared.

"We are the real targets," said Prof Geifman. "The terrorists are talking to us."

But instead of avoiding school or work after an attack, life should go on, she urged.

"They want to see every one of us act as a hostage... We should do the opposite and not succumb to fear."


Dec 14, 2014 - Gumsuri village, Nigeria

Members of extremist group Boko Haram killed 35 people and kidnapped at least 185, mostly women and young girls, from a village in north-eastern Nigeria.

The remote village is less than 24km from the village of Chibok, where Boko Haram fighters seized nearly 300 schoolgirls in April.

April 14, 2014 - Chibok, Nigeria

Boko Haram militants broke into the Government Girls Secondary School and abducted nearly 300 girls at gunpoint. Around 50 girls escaped by jumping off the back of trucks. The attack launched a global "Bring Back Our Girls" Twitter campaign, which was supported by US First Lady Michelle Obama. The Nigerian government has said it will do all it can to get the girls back, but admits it does not know where they are.

Feb 23, 2013 - Musayyib city, Iraq

Al-Qaeda militants detonated at least one explosive-laden vehicle outside a primary school, killing one and injuring 60. Most of the victims were schoolchildren. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility and said the attack was in retaliation for the torture and genocide that Sunni civilians face in Iraqi prisons.

May 23, 2012- Taloqan city, Afghanistan

Suspected Taleban attackers sprayed poisonous material into the Bibi Haji school, injuring at least 120 people, including three female teachers. All survived the attack.

Sept 1, 2004 - Beslan, Russia

A group of 30 to 35 rebels from Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs seized a school in Beslan and took about 1,200 children, parents and teachers hostage in the school gym. The three-day siege left more than 300 dead and another 700 injured.

Sources: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Global Terrorism Database; The Guardian

No comments:

Post a Comment