ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – At least four suicide gunmen stormed a college campus under severe fog Wednesday morning, shooting 20 people to death.

The terrorists scaled the wall of the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, about 30 miles from Peshawar. Officials said the death toll could raise to 40 and affirmed that four suspected attackers were killed by security forces.

All but one of the bodies were recovered, including students, policemen, guards and a teacher, who was identified as chemistry professor Syed Hamid Husain. He was killed after shooting back at the terrorists with a pistol to help his students escape. The militants entered classrooms and hostels as they were shooting in the head execution-style, according to eyewitnesses and TV footage.

Security officials gathered outside the university. Photo: The Nation Pakistan/AP
Security officials gathered outside the university. Photo: The Nation Pakistan/AP

“We have sent four suicide attackers and they have killed dozens of people,” a Pakistani Taliban group said in a statement, claiming responsibility for the attack. “This is a message to the Pakistani army and civilian leadership, who have executed 130 mujahideen, our people. We will carry out more attacks to take revenge on them”.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed a merciless response and said the national efforts would finally eliminate terrorism.

The university is named after Bacha Khan, a Pashtun nationalist leader who founded the Awami National Party. The party is widely known for its strong anti-Taliban ideas and several leaders have been killed over the past few years. The attack on Wednesday occurred as the university prepared to host a gathering of Pashtun poets to commemorate the 28th year anniversary of Khan’s death.

The assault came as a move of revenge, since Pakistan is currently carrying out an extensive anti-terrorism campaign, including extensive military crackdowns. A Pakistani Taliban group – Omar Mansoor from Darra Adam Khel region – took credit for the attack.

The terror group is pushing for the imposition of Sharia law in Pakistan. Since it was founded in the mid-2000s, over 50,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks or battles between Islamist militants and the military.

The massacre at the Army Public School (APS) in Dec. 2014 in Peshawar is also believed to have been carried out by the same group, which marked the worst tragedy in the history of Pakistan by killing 134 children.

After the APS massacre, which united the heartbroken Pakistani, officials greatly improved security at educational buildings. They erected walls lined with razor wire and ordered permanent presence of armed guards at certain institutions. Teachers in some provinces were even allowed to carry firearms in the classroom.

However, the terrorism threat remains. There have been warnings that schools are still vulnerable to attack. In fact, on Tuesday parents across northwestern Pakistan pulled their children out of school because they heard rumors that a terrorist attack on a school may be about to happen.

Source: Washington Post