A group of militants has stormed a university in north-west Pakistan, killing at least 30 people and leaving dozens injured.
The gunmen entered Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, at about 9.30am (4.30am GMT), apparently using the cover of thick morning fog, and opened fire on students and teachers in classrooms and accommodation blocks.
A gun battle ensued between the attackers and Pakistan security forces, with television footage showing soldiers entering the campus as ambulances lined up outside the main gate and anxious parents consoled each other. After several hours the army said four attackers had been killed and that a clearance operation had ended.
At midday local time a provincial minister said 30 people had died, though unverified reports from witnesses suggested that number could rise. Naseer, a 23-year-old student, said he counted more than 50 bodies and saw gunmen shooting male and female students “without discrimination”. “They were directly shooting at the heads of the students,” he said.
Salman Khan, an operating theatre technician at the Charsadda district hospital, said the critically injured had head and chest wounds. Fifty of the most seriously wounded were moved to the larger Lady Reading hospital in Peshawar, the nearby provincial capital, he said.
The assault came 14 months after gunmen affiliated with the Pakistani militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban attacked an army school in Peshawar, killing 132 children. Since then, Pakistan has killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants under a counter-terrorism plan enacted in the wake of the massacre.
A Tehreek-e-Taliban commander told AFP it was responsible for Wednesday’s attack and that four suicide attackers were involved. However, Mohammad Khurasani, the main spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, denied the group carried out the attack, describing it as “un-Islamic”.
Shabir Khan, a lecturer in the English department of the university, said he was about to leave the hostel for the department when firing began. “Most of the students and staff were in classes when the firing began,” he said.
The attackers entered the back of the university compound by climbing over walls and shooting at a security guard before they made their way to the administration building and the male students’ dormitories, Saeed Khan Wazir, a police official, told Associated Press.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Fazal Raheem Marwat, told Agence France-Presse he had been on his way to work when he was informed of the attack. “There was no announced threat but we had already beefed up security at the university,” he said.
More than 3,000 people were reported to be on the campus, which lies about 60 miles (100km) north-west of Islamabad.
The assault is the latest in a string of terrorist strikes against soft targets on three continents. Last week, extremists targeted tourists in central Istanbul, a UN office and a coffee shop in Jakarta, Indonesia, and a restaurant in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.
The number of terrorist attacks on educational institutions has soared in recent years, tracking a steep rise in overall terrorist violence. And they are increasingly lethal. In April, nearly 150 people died in an assault by Somalia-based al-Shabaab on a university in northern Kenya.
Responding to Wednesday’s attack, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said: “We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland.”
Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, issued a statement to strongly condemn the terror attack, offering condolences to families of the deceased.
Last week India rescheduled talks between the two countries aimed at reducing tensions, after an attack on an airbase in western India that Delhi blamed on a militant group based in Pakistan.