More than 100 children were killed in a Taliban attack on a military school in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday. The total death toll reached at least 126, with 122 people injured, local officials said, in the worst attack to hit the country in years.
The Pakistani army operation to rescue students ended after nine Taliban gunmen were killed, according to a military source.
The attack started with the Taliban storming the school in Peshawar in the morning hours and shooting at random. The military said Tuesday afternoon that a sixth gunman had been killed at the school, and that operations were "closing up."
"6th terrorist killed in last block," Major General Asim Bajwa tweeted. "IEDs (bombs) planted by terrorists hamper speed of clearance."
"Closing up," he tweeted. The Taliban said they sent six gunmen wearing suicide vests into the building. Special forces rescued two children and two staff members from the facility.
The overwhelming majority of the victims were students at the army public school, which has children and teenagers in grades 1-10. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the assault and rushed to Peshawar to show his support for the victims.
Earlier on Tuesday, a Reuters journalist at the scene heard heavy gunfire from inside the school as soldiers surrounded it. Helicopters swooped overhead and a fleet of ambulances ferried wounded children to hospital.
"Many are in the operation theater now in critical condition, undergoing treatment," said Lady Reading Hospital official Ejaz Khan.
Military officials at the scene said at least six armed men had entered the military-run Army Public School. About 500 students and teachers were believed to be inside.
"We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers," said Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver.
A teacher said that the attackers targeted the school while exams were taking place.
"After half an hour of the attack, the army came and sealed the school," a teacher told a private television channel outside the besieged school.
"We were in the examination hall when the attack took place," he said. "Now the army men are clearing the classes one by one."
Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani told Reuters his group was responsible for the attack.
"Our suicide bombers have entered the school, they have instructions not to harm the children, but to target the army personnel," he said.
"It's a revenge attack for the army offensive in North Waziristan," he said, referring to an anti-Taliban military offensive that began in June.
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai, who is from Pakistan, said she was "heartbroken by this senseless and cold blooded act of terror in Peshawar."
"I condemn these atrocious and cowardly acts and stand united with the government and armed forces of Pakistan whose efforts so far to address this horrific event are commendable. I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters - but we will never be defeated."
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