Pakistan: Taliban gunmen disguised in burqas storm college

A group of Taliban insurgents, clad in burqas, reached the gates of Peshawar’s Agriculture Training Institute in a rickshaw on Friday morning, before firing “indiscriminately” at guards and students.

“A number of people have been injured and the military and other law enforcement agencies are carrying out an operation to clear the area,” said Peshawar police chief Muhammad Tahir Khan.

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According to reports citing hospital officials, at least nine people were killed in the attack and around 35 injured.

Local media reported that police and the army reached the compound shortly after the attackers breached the entrance. Intermittent gunfire and explosions could be heard from inside the complex for about two hours.

At least one of the gunmen was reported to have been killed after he holed himself up in one of the campus buildings. It is believed that there were five attackers in total. It remained unclear whether the other four had also been killed.

A residential area within the training compound was also evacuated.

A wounded student told Reuters news agency that most of the residents in the university hostel had gone home for the long weekend. Of the 400 students housed in the complex, only around 120 were on campus when the shooting started.

“We were sleeping when we heard gunshots. I got up and within seconds everybody was running and shouting ‘the Taliban have attacked,'” the student said.

Tehreek-e-Taliban claims responsibility

A spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban, a Pakistani branch of the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Our mujahids have attacked the building because it was used as office for ISI,” said speaker Muhammad Khurasani, referring to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. “God willing our fighters will fight till the last drop of blood.”

Tehreek-e-Taliban is fighting to topple Pakistan’s government and impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law. In December 2014, insurgents killed 151 children at Peshawar’s Army Public School, most of whom schoolchildren, one of the single deadliest attacks in Pakistan’s history.

A country on edge

Friday’s attack came amid heightened security across Pakistan as it celebrates the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

Security forces are also on high alert following weeks of violent anti-blasphemy protests, led by the Islamist group Tehreek-i-Labaik (TiL), in the capital of Islamabad, which saw seven people killed and hundreds and wounded, as demonstrators clashed with police forces.

The violence spread to other major Pakistani cities last weekend, including Lahore and Karachi, after police and paramilitary forces launched a bungled attempt to clear a sit-in.

The protests were finally ended under a military-brokered deal between lawmakers and TiL.

dm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)