A day after the Taliban in Pakistan brutally attacked a school, protesters raised their voices Wednesday against the extremist violence and held candlelight vigils to show their solidarity.
The hours-long siege on the Army Public School and Degree College in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan ended with the death of 148 people, most of them students. Some of the pupils were in classes and others were attending a seminar on first aid when the attackers burst into their rooms.
According to witnesses, the gunmen asked the students if they were the children of army officers, said Aneela Khalid, a reporter at Khyber News in Peshawar. The children who said yes were shot in the head to make sure they were dead, she said. “They were especially after kids and teachers who belonged to military families.”
At first the gunmen shot the students, said Khalid. But when they ran out of bullets, they used knives. And they terrorized the students by killing a teacher and lighting her body on fire in front of them.
While walking around the streets on Wednesday, Khalid observed that many shops and schools were closed. “Everybody was sad. I saw many people crying,” she said by phone. Funerals for the dozens of students and school staff already had begun.
The battered school remains closed and it’s unknown when it will reopen, said Khalid. People are “scared and disappointed” with how the perpetrators could have entered the school unnoticed, she said.
The terrorist act, however, is serving as a unifying force for political leaders and people in Pakistan, who are holding protests in several cities demanding an end to the violence, according to Khalid.
“People are confused when it comes to the Taliban. They don’t understand who these people are. But they know one thing — that these are people who want to destroy innocent people and are against humanity and against Pakistan,” she said.
Over the summer, the Pakistani government launched a military operation to uproot extremists in the North Waziristan tribal region. Since then, people in nearby Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its provincial capital Peshawar have been bracing for revenge attacks, said Khalid.
But nothing happened for awhile, she said, so people began moving around freely. The school that came under attack on Tuesday didn’t have extra security.
“Ultimately, the people from this area face trouble with the insurgency,” so they are the ones who want peace the most, she said. And they don’t want terrorists living among them, whether they agree with the extremist agenda or not.