Gunmen stormed Bacha Khan University in Northwest Pakistan in the morning of Wednesday, January 20, 2016, killing over 20 and injuring around 60 others.
Witnesses reported two large explosions as security forces moved in under dense fog to halt the bloodshed.
The attackers threw grenades, pushed onto campus and opened fire.
Regional Police chief Saeed Wazir says the attackers had “taken advantage of the fog” as the authorities estimated visibility was less than 30 feet at the time.
“There was heavy fog in the area when armed men entered…and started firing at the security guards, students and teachers,” said Wazir.
Police, soldiers and special forces swarmed the University from the ground and the air in a bid to shut down the assault, as television images showed female students running for their lives.
Eyewitnesses told local media the gunmen chanted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is greatest” as they launched the attack in the classrooms and dormitories.
“It is so saddening to think that this is happening all over the world,” says an anonymous freshman.
Attackers were said to have scaled walls around the campus, taking some students and faculty hostage. Student Zahoor Khan said he saw his chemistry professor shot in front of him while advising students to stay inside.
The professor, Syed Hamid Husain, was said to have saved many lives with his heroic actions. Students told of how he opened fire on gunmen as they rampaged across campus, giving the young people time to flee before he was cut down in a hail of bullets. Husain has since been named a “martyr” and a gentleman.
Teachers, like Husain, were given permission to carry firearms in the classroom after Taliban militants massacred more than 150 people at a school only 30 miles away from Bacha Khan in 2014.
Student Bakhtiar Khan saw the gun battle at Bacha Khan. He recounted that “they shot [and] injured three security guards and one of them later went to block number one, another climbed to upper floor of the building, and the third one went towards administration block.”
Survivor Aizaz Khan thought he was hearing a fight when the shooting started.
“We heard firing from the back of the campus…then the firing increased. Then we said ‘get into the rooms-don’t go out’ then the security forces came. They showed great bravery,” he said.
Militants stormed the school, killing four of the gunmen. At least two of the attackers were wearing suicide vests, but were not able to detonate.
Vice Chancellor Fazle Rahim Marwat said that 3,000 students are enrolled at the University. There were more people than usual on campus at the time of the attack because the school was holding a poetry symposium to honor the anniversary of the death of Bacha Khan, who the school is named after.
Authorities had apparently been warned of a possible attack two weeks prior and had increased security at the site.
“It is very sad when you think about how often schools are being targeted in attacks such as these across the world. School is supposed to be a safe place,” says sophomore Taylor Parente. “It’s sickening to think a parent will send a child to school thinking they are safe and something like this happens.”
In the aftermath of the attack, ambulances rushed to the campus to help those in need. Those who could walk, did, and helped those who could not get help. Men carried around caskets in order to clean up the mass of bodies left.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was “personally monitoring the situation,” in Charsadda, according to a statement issues by his office.
“We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland,” he said in a statement.
While a Taliban commander initially claimed responsibility for the attack, a spokesman for the group later denied the militants had been involved.
The attack was branded “un-Islamic” by leadership in Pakistan who vowed to hunt down those responsible.
How does the attack on Bacha Khan University make you feel?