Newspaper article International New York Times

Pakistan Reels after School Assault ; Even after Years of Killing by Taliban, Methodical Assault Stuns the Nation

Newspaper article International New York Times

Pakistan Reels after School Assault ; Even after Years of Killing by Taliban, Methodical Assault Stuns the Nation

Article excerpt

With flags at half-staff and businesses closed, Pakistanis seemed to be trapped between grief, anger and frustration.

As Pakistani Taliban gunmen strode through the corridors and classrooms of the Army Public School and Degree College, spraying teachers and pupils with bullets, one paused from his grisly work to make a phone call.

"We have killed all of the children in the auditorium," the militant, later identified by the military as Abuzar, told his handler. "What do we do now?"

"Wait for the army to arrive," came the reply. "Kill them, then blow yourself up."

That conversation, recounted by a senior security official who said it had been intercepted by Pakistani intelligence, offered sobering proof of the methodical approach and cold resolve of the Taliban militants who, over the course of an eight-hour rampage on Tuesday, killed 148 people in the Peshawar school, at least 132 of them children.

On Wednesday, the horror of their actions paralyzed Pakistan, a country with much experience of Taliban atrocities and yet, in this instance, uniquely affected.

With flags at half-staff and businesses closed, Pakistanis seemed to be trapped between grief, anger and frustration, for once overcoming their divisions to unite in pain.

Peshawar became a city of small coffins. Through the day, mournful funeral processions wended through the otherwise deserted streets, as the victims of the massacre were escorted to mosques and graveyards.

At the school, army officials led the way to the principal's destroyed office on Wednesday. The room was devastated, streaked with blast marks and blood, torn by a suicide bomber's blast. Military officials said they believed the principal, Tahira Qazi, had died trying to save her students -- the bodies of two boys were also found in the office.

But elsewhere in the school complex -- four main buildings clustered around a central administration block -- it was the blood of children that dominated. It was everywhere: smeared on the walls, pooled in the corridors and soaked in abandoned clothes. The smell of explosives and charred flesh filled the air.

The greatest carnage occurred inside the assembly hall, where soldiers said they had recovered over 100 bodies, many piled on one another. Shoes, copybooks and eyeglasses were scattered amid empty rows of seats where, according to witness accounts, students had cowered in a vain attempt to evade the killers. They were singled out, one by one, and shot in the head.

Some teachers tried to intervene. An army officer was giving first aid lessons on the main stage of the auditorium when the gunmen burst in. A female teacher, officers said, had begged the gunmen to let the children go. She was also executed.

The militant rampage was cut short, officials said, when commandos with the army's elite Special Service Group entered the school. …

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