Nine people were killed and 37 injured as at least three terrorists dressed in burkas stormed the hostel of Peshawar's Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) on Friday morning.
The attack was claimed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Both police and military officials said the attackers had been coordinating with handlers based in Afghanistan.
Security forces hunted down and neutralised the terrorists in an operation launched soon after the attack was reported. They were assisted by military helicopters conducting aerial surveillance of the premises.
After the threat was neutralised, security forces began clearing the institute's premises. Shortly after, journalists were allowed to enter the institute.
Hayatabad Medical Complex Director Shahzad Akbar said six dead and 18 injured had been brought to the hospital. Khyber Teaching Hospital sources said they had received three bodies and 17 wounded.
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said two soldiers had been injured in the rescue operation. They had been shifted to the Combined Military Hospital for treatment.
The province's police chief said six students, the institute's gatekeeper, and two civilians are among the dead. One police officer, two soldiers and a journalist are among the injured, he said.
Peshawar's University Road, where the incident took place, is now open for traffic after being closed in the hours following the attack.
The Agricultural Training Institute has been closed for an unspecified period and the hostels have been cleared of students.
- Firing, explosions heard as gunmen storm ATI
- 9 people killed
- 37 people injured
- At least three terrorists killed
- Terrorists contacted handlers in Afghanistan: DG ISPR
- TTP claim responsibility for attack
Major crisis averted
Director General ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor and Inspector General KP Salahuddin Mehsud both stated in separate press conferences that three terrorists had been involved in the attack and had been killed; with the IG adding that the identity of a fourth suspected attacker was being confirmed.
The DG ISPR also said the attackers were in contact with their handlers in Afghanistan throughout the assault; a statement echoed by the KP police chief.
The KP chief minister, however, later revealed that one attacker had been injured during the security forces' operation and was being interrogated. He also revealed that the attackers had arrived in Peshawar only the night before.
"One of the attackers was around 35 years old while the rest were under 25," he added.
Bomb Disposal Squad chief Malik Shafqat said that the terrorists had been wearing suicide jackets packed with ball bearings. However, he said, the terrorists were all killed before they could detonate their vests. All bombs found on the premises were defused, he assured.
Three suicide jackets and 20 grenades ─ all intact ─ were recovered from the killed militants' possession, as well as small arms and ammunition.
According to a senior superintendent of police, police had been informed that the hostel was not adequately secured even though it was among the more vulnerable areas in the city.
Timely police action prevents bigger tragedy
KP IG Mehsud, while briefing the media on the attack, said that Peshawar police, along with Elite Police, the Rapid Response Force and other police groups, took part in the operation along with army troops and Special Forces personnel.
"There were two hostels in the area," he explained. "The terrorists were able to attack one hostel, whereas the other one was secured by security forces before they could reach it."
"There were around 60 people in one hostel and 50-60 in the other," he continued, adding that housing colonies are also located in the surrounding area.
"If the hostels and houses had not been evacuated in a timely manner, the number of casualties could have been in the hundreds," he said.
Armoured Personal Carriers were used to carry students safely from within the university to outside the premises, the IG said.
"Three terrorists have been killed. One person's identity is being verified... The fourth. They are checking it," he said.
"The regional situation is such that foreign intelligence agencies and terrorists on the other side of the border are cooperating. The terrorists aim for soft targets or opt for isolated incidents in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and KP," he said.
The police chief commended his force for taking swift and effective action and preventing a larger tragedy — a belief echoed by the army's spokesman and the province's political leadership.
'Terrorists came prepared for a major attack'
KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra told DawnNews that the terrorists had come prepared to stage a bigger attack than they were able to execute.
He condemned the attackers for causing loss of life on Eid Miladun Nabi.
"Who can commit such an attack on this day?" he asked. "This action is against our religion. It proves that those who do such things really are terrorists."
"The public needs to stay alert and inform the army and police of suspicious individuals," he added.
Attack happened 'suddenly', says KP CM
Chief Minister Peshawar Pervaiz Khattak said that although the KP police is "always alert", this incident "happened suddenly".
"The police arrived and took control [...] Security measures have been taken keeping Eid Miladun Nabi in view. Our police was there soon after the firing started," he said.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan tweeted his condemnation of the terror attack.
He commended "the rapid response of the KP police and army that helped in containing [the] damage and concluding the operation".
"The reformed professional KP police force with its special rapid response unit has made a difference in dealing with acts of terrorism in a timely, holistic and coordinated manner," he said.
The attack began around 8.30am as three loud explosions were heard and firing broke out at the ATI hostel opposite the Agricultural Directorate after at least three burqa-clad suspects entered the building.
The area where the incident occurred is a hub for educational institutions in the city, including the University of Peshawar. The ATI hostel was officially closed today for Eid Miladun Nabi.
Ordinarily, there are around 400 students at the hostel, but because of the holiday today there were only 150 present, a university student who witnessed the attack said.
"Two terrorists entered and fired, and the students began running. Some were injured; others jumped out of the windows of the hostel," he said.
Noor Wali, a 19-year-old student at the institute, described a terrifying ordeal that began when he was woken by gunshots.
"I rushed to the door and saw a fountain of blood pumping out of the shoulder of my roommate who was standing outside the room," he told AFP.
He and another student rushed to his aid, and hid from the gunmen for almost an hour before they were rescued by security forces.
"The other student was pressing the wound with his hands to stop the blood and I had to put my hand on his mouth so that he cannot scream," he said.
"We took shelter inside the bedroom and were begging the injured student not to make any sound as the terrorists might hear it and kill us."
"There was firing everywhere," a visibly disturbed student told DawnNews. "We were able to bring some women and children out with us. The warden's family came out safely with us," he added.
"I was asleep. When we heard the gunshots, we quickly shut our room's door and made phone calls to find out what was happening. We were told that the people outside are terrorists and that we should keep our room's door shut," said Saleh, another student who was in the hostel at the time of the attack.
He added: "The terrorists shot at everyone who was roaming around and they were breaking doors down to attack students. Thankfully security personnel reached the hostel before those men came to our room — that is why we are alive."
Peshawar: a victim of militancy
The attack comes a week after Additional Inspector General (AIG) Ashraf Noor was martyred in a suicide blast in the city's Hayatabad area.
Peshawar has for decades been a victim of militancy due to its status as a front line region in the ongoing war against militancy as well as its proximity to the restless tribal areas and the lawless Pak-Afghan border.
Pakistan Army had launched Operation Raddul Fasaad earlier this year in the aftermath of a fresh resurgence in terror attacks in the country.
The operation seeks to eliminate the "residual/latent threat of terrorism", consolidating the gains made in other military operations, and further ensuring the security of Pakistan's borders.
Hundreds of suspected terrorists have reportedly either been killed or arrested in raids carried out by security personnel since the start of the operation.
The number of attacks in the country has fallen around 70 per cent over the past year, due to a combination of the military offensive against Taliban bases along the Afghan border and government initiatives to tackle militancy, but attacks on security and civilian targets continue to occur.