At least 25 people including students were feared killed and more than 50 injured in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday when a group of gunmen stormed a university named after the apostle of peace Frontier Gandhi.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which had massacred 134 school children at a school in Peshawar in December, 2014, claimed responsibility for the attack at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda.
The Bacha Khan University at Charsadda, around 50 km from Peshawar in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is a public sector university named after Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, fondly called the Frontier Gandhi whose 28th death anniversary falls on Tuesday.
“The death toll in the terrorist attack has risen to 25," AFP quoted regional police chief Saeed Wazir who did not specify if that included the four militants the army stated it had killed.
He said the operation had ended and security forces were clearing the area, with most of the student victims shot dead at a hostel for boys.
Eyewitnesses said the attack started at around 8 am when the militants used the cover of thick, wintry fog to scale the walls and enter the university campus.
Eyewitnesses said they first entered the dean's office and then spread out to the classes and the hostels.
They opened air indiscriminately on students and staff and one of the first victims was a senior member of the staff who tried to save the students.
Police, soldiers and special forces launched a ground and air operation at the university as television images showed female students fleeing the campus. Eyewitnesses also reported hearing explosions from inside the campus, spread over 20 acres.
“There are five dead bodies in front of me," said emergency official Bilal Faizi, speaking from the university.
“All of them have bullet wounds," he told AFP.
Army spokesman Lt Gen Asim Salim Bajwa tweeted that four terrorists were killed during operation launched by security forces to clear the university.
“Snipers killed 2 more terrorists on roof top, total terrorist killed so far 4. All buildings & roof top taken over by Army...," he tweeted.
Television footage showed soldiers entering the campus as ambulances lined up outside the main gate and anxious parents consoled each other.
Vice-chancellor Fazal Rahim told reporters that the university teaches over 3,000 students and hosted an additional 600 visitors on Wednesday for a poetry recital.
Rahim said four guards of the university and one policeman were among the dead.
Shabir Khan, a lecturer in the English department, said he was about to leave the hostel for the department when firing began.
“Most of the students and staff were in classes when the firing began," Khan said.
“I have no idea about what's going on but I heard one security official talking on the phone to someone and said many people had been killed and injured."
TTP spokesman Umer Mansoor called up local media over phone and said “it is in reaction to execution of our members and supporters."
He threatened similar attacks against government colleges, universities and other educational institutions in the future. The banned TTP commander said four of its members took part in the attack.