By Lehaz Ali ,AFP
CHARSADDA, Pakistan – -At least 21 people died when gunmen armed with grenades and Kalashnikovs attacked a university in Pakistan Wednesday, as security forces moved in under thick fog to halt the bloodshed. The assault was claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction but branded “un-Islamic” by the umbrella group’s leadership, who vowed to hunt down those responsible. The number of dead climbed rapidly after armed men stormed the Bacha Khan university in the northwestern town of Charsadda in the latest outrage to hit the militant-infested region. Police, soldiers and special forces swarmed the university from the ground and the air to try to shut down the assault. Television images showed female students running for their lives and witnesses reported at least two explosions. “The death toll in the terrorist attack has risen to 21,” regional police chief Saeed Wazir told AFP, with most of the student victims shot dead at a hostel for male students. An AFP reporter saw pools of blood and overturned furniture at the hostel, where security forces cornered the four gunmen. “More than 30 others including students, staff and security guards were wounded,” Wazir added.
He said the attackers had “taken advantage of the fog,” adding that visibility was less than 10 meters at the time. A military spokesman said the four attackers had been killed, two by snipers, though it was not clear if they were included in the toll of 21 given by police. Umar Mansoor, a commander of the Hakimullah Mehsud faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistani (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack. “Our four suicide attackers carried out the attack on Bacha Khan University today,” said Mansoor. Security forces believe he was the mastermind behind a similar attack on an army-run school in nearby Peshawar in 2014 that left more than 150 people dead. The TTP’s central leadership denied any involvement. “TTP strongly condems today’s attack and disassociates itself completely from this un-Islamic attack,” spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said on Twitter, vowing that the group would bring those behind it to justice. The denial appeared to indicate continued infighting in the Pakistani Taliban, as the Islamic State group seeks to recruit its disaffected fighters.
A senior security official said the faces of the attackers were recognisable and their fingerprints had been taken, adding: “We hope we will soon identify them.” One had a mobile phone in his hand connected to Mansoor’s faction, he said. He said two of the attackers were teenagers while the others were in their early 20s. They were armed with hand grenades and Kalashnikovs.