Pakistan raises death toll in Peshawar school attack to 148

Hospital officials: 7 more Pakistani school staff members succumb to injuries from Tuesday's attack

Children’s shoes and books were bathed in blood. The classroom walls were pocked with bullet holes. Near the administration building lay the remains of one of the suicide bombers who turned the elite school into a scene of horror.

Dozens of victims lay in coffins carried by loved ones through streets that were otherwise silent in grief Wednesday. Funeral processions started from seemingly every neighborhood and ended in city graveyards and green wheat fields.

A day after Pakistani Taliban gunmen carried out a massacre at the Army Public School in this northwestern city, families buried slain students and staff members, doctors worked to save scores of wounded and Pakistan’s prime minister vowed to fight “until all terrorists are defeated.”

Hospital officials in Peshawar said at least seven more school staff members died of their injuries, raising the death toll to 148. The number of children killed remained at 132, nearly all of them 12 to 16 years old.

In Landi Arbab, a wheat farming village outside Peshawar, hundreds of mourners gathered to pay respects to Tahira Kazi, the 59-year-old school principal, who was reportedly burned alive by the militants in one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks.

Family members remembered Kazi as a smiling woman who spoke as much about her students as her own children. But many relatives could not summon the courage Wednesday to look at her face, which had been burned beyond recognition.

“Her death is a great loss to our village and school,” said a second cousin, Kazi Ashfaq, 45. “She was such a committed teacher and a sweet person.”

Sorrow mingled with anger as some Pakistanis accused the military of failing to protect the army-run school, which is in a cantonment area and most of its students are the children of army personnel. The attackers apparently encountered little security as they stormed the school’s back entrance Tuesday morning and methodically gunned down students and staff members, shooting most of them in the head.

“The army’s quick response force failed to thwart a terror attack in the cantonment,” said Said Alam Mehsud, a human rights activist in Peshawar. “The government should either provide protection to the citizens or allow us to fight against these beasts.”

The Pakistani military responded by carrying out 20 airstrikes in the rugged northern mountain areas and killing dozens of militants, officials said. The claims could not be independently verified.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism cases, paving the way for dozens of inmates who have exhausted their appeals to be executed by hanging. Few executions have been carried out since 2008 because of opposition from domestic and international human rights groups.

“We have proposed terrorism cases should be expedited,” Sharif said. “If terrorists are not punished, then who will be punished?”

Amnesty International, one of the most vocal opponents of capital punishment, urged the Pakistani government to resist “giving in to fear and anger.”

“Capital punishment is not the answer to Pakistan’s law-and-order situation and would do nothing to tackle crime or militancy in the country,” David Griffiths, the group’s deputy director for the Asia-Pacific region, said in a statement.

The Pakistani Taliban said the attack was to avenge an army offensive in the northern tribal areas this year that officials say has killed hundreds of militants. The insurgent group, which is allied with but separate from the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, has attacked schools, airports, courthouses and other civilian sites in its effort to oust the government in Islamabad.

The army chief of staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, visited Afghanistan after military officials said the attack had been plotted on Afghan soil. The two countries share a rugged, lawless border and each side accuses the other of harboring militants.

The general, who is not related to the prime minister, called on Afghanistan to arrest Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, who is wanted on terrorism charges in Pakistan and is believed to reside on the Afghan side of the border.

Pakistan’s political factions have been sharply divided over how to deal with the militant threat. On Wednesday, opposition leader Imran Khan, who has opposed the army offensive, called off his months-long campaign of nationwide protests against Sharif’s government in a move aimed at building national unity.

Many Pakistanis said they were ready to fight the militants. At the home of Farooq Shah in Peshawar’s congested Gulberg neighborhood, friends and relatives streamed through the doors to offer prayers for his son and nephew, both 11th-graders who were killed at the school. But Shah said he felt as much pride as sorrow for the loss of the boys.

“They have sacrificed their innocent lives for this country,” he said. “I am ready to sacrifice my other children for this national cause.”

Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India. Special correspondent Aoun Sahi in Peshawar contributed to this report.

For more news from South Asia, follow @SBengali on Twitter

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


2:25 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout.