Peshawar: As many as 84 children were among a staggering 104 people killed when heavily armed terrorists launched a brazen attack on an army-run school in Pakistan's Peshawar city.
The horrifying attack comes amidst political turmoil in the country and just a day after the hostage crisis at a cafe in Australia's Sydney city.
Around four to five terrorists first set a vehicle on fire and then stormed the Army Public School building located at Warsik Road in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, ARY news reported.
Television footage showed the school children shocked and in tears. Some of them had blood on their faces. One of the students was carried away on a stretcher while another leaned onto a security personnel who helped him away.
The frightened children recalled the horror.
"It was the fourth period. We were in our classes. They (the terrorists) were carrying guns in their hands," a young school student told the media.
"Our principal told our teacher that the students have to be evacuated. Suddenly we saw army personnel arriving," the student said.
The wounded and bloodied were carried away while anxious parents waited for news outside.
Over 500 students and teachers were trapped inside the building, with eyewitnesses saying they saw some of the wounded lying in the corridors.
A school teacher said that around 1,400 to 1,500 students study in the school.
Soon after the terrorists struck, a suicide bomber among them blew himself up outside the school auditorium.
Unconfirmed reports said that the auditorium was packed with students who were taking their exams.
The students were initially under the impression that it was yet another army drill and the horror sank in only after they saw school mates being hit by bullets.
The school teachers apparently tried to shepherd the children to safety. Some were able to flee soon after the attack began at noon, while a few others were taken out to safety by the security personnel who responded promptly.
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility and called it a revenge attack for the army operations in North Waziristan.
The guerrillas carried out the attack on the school that is normally well guarded and is considered secure.
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has confirmed that the children and staff are being evacuated from the building.
Some children said that the terrorists attacked the auditorium where they were appearing for their examinations.
Uday, a lab assistant at the school, said: "I was hiding for one hour. The army came. They (the terrorists) numbered six-seven. They had big rifles."
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak have condemned the violent incident and ordered the safe rescue of the children trapped inside the school.
Sharif has directed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to coordinate the rescue operation in Peshawar with security forces to ensure all possible help that needs to be extended to them.
Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) leader Sirajul Haq has condemned the incident and said that the whole country stood with the families of the deceased, Dawn online reported.
"Attack on innocent children in the name of religion is not acceptable," Haq tweeted.
All the injured have been shifted to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.
The injured students were writhing in pain. A child who was swathed in bandages was in tears as he narrated the terror attack.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab Abbasi has also been directed to ensure all possible assistance to security forces in the rescue operation.