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Pakistan mourns massacre victims – Police foil bomb attack at bus station

Pakistanis gather for funeral prayers for victims of the Jan 20 Bacha Khan University attack in Charsadda on Jan 21. (AFP)
Pakistanis gather for funeral prayers for victims of the Jan 20 Bacha Khan University attack in Charsadda on Jan 21. (AFP)

CHARSADDA, Pakistan, Jan 21, (Agencies): Pakistan observed a day of national mourning Thursday for the 21 people killed when heavily- armed gunmen stormed a university in the troubled northwest, exposing the failings in a national crackdown on extremism. Armed police, some perched on the roofs of buildings, were still deployed Thursday morning at the Bacha Khan university campus in Charsadda, where students were targeted with grenades and automatic weapons, an AFP reporter said. Wednesday’s assault, claimed by a faction of the Pakistani Taleban, bore a chilling resemblance to a December 2014 massacre at a school in nearby Peshawar that triggered a crackdown on militants that had been credited with a palpable improvement in security.

Around 1,000 people in a nearby village attended the funeral on Thursday of a university caretaker killed. “I want to tell the terrorists, they can never win, they will lose, we will win, we the followers of peace and not terrorism,” Shah Hussain, father of the caretaker Fakhr-e- Alam, told AFP. One of the wounded students, a geology major, died overnight and his funeral was also being held Thursday. The majority of the dead were buried Wednesday in accordance with Muslim tradition. Seven other survivors were in stable condition and being treated in local hospitals, officials said. Defiant authorities kept schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province open Thursday.

“Militants want them shut down,” provincial education minister Arif Khan told AFP. “We wanted to send the message that education will continue.” Only Bacha Khan university and its sister university Abdul Wali Khan in the town of Mardan were closed, he said. Flags flew at half-mast on government buildings while a prayer ceremony was set to be held in Islamabad, where Pashtun students were also organising a protest. Pashtuns form the dominant ethnic group in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. More than 200 sportsmen and women gathered along with officials from the Pakistan Sport Board (PSB) at a complex in the capital earlier Thursday to offer prayers for the victims. “We are determined that the young generation of Pakistan will not bow down to the terrorists,” PSB director Akhtar Nawaz said. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed a “ruthless” response to the massacre and ordered security forces to hunt those behind Wednesday’s attack.

Pools of blood and overturned furniture could be seen inside a hostel where the majority of the students died, while in a back alley outside, an old wooden plaque on the wall proclaimed: “Heroes die young”. Most of the victims were students and their families were inconsolable.

Two teachers were among the dead, including a chemistry professor who was praised as a hero for shooting back at the attackers and allowing some students to escape. “My son was grown up, but still he was an innocent kid for me,” said Gula Bibi, the mother of the second slain teacher, Iftikhar Ahmad, who was also the university librarian. “My heart is breaking apart, I don’t know what to do,” she said. The co-ed Bacha Khan University in Pakistan, attacked by Islamic militants on Wednesday, was named for a prominent secular activist and ally of Mahatma Gandhi, and embodied much of what the extremists revile.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Police said they caught a man planting a bomb at a crowded bus station in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar Thursday, a day after Taleban gunmen attacked a nearby university, leaving 21 people dead. “We caught a man planting a bomb at Peshawar Bus Stand,” senior police official Rokhan Zeb told AFP. A bomb disposal team safely defused it, he said, adding that some 2,000 people were near the bus stand when the device was found. “A big disaster has been averted due to police alertness, had the bomb exploded it could have killed and wounded scores of people,” Zeb said. Analysts have said Wednesday’s attack on the Bacha Khan university in Charsadda, some 50 kms (30 miles) from Peshawar, shows that a national crackdown has failed to quell extremism and militants can hit targets at will. The rampage, which saw gunmen target students and staff with grenades and automatic weapons, threatened to destroy a sense of security that had been slowly growing in the area more than a year after a 2014 assault on a Peshawar school that left more than 150 people dead in Pakistan’s deadliest ever extremist attack.

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