Pakistan: Taliban gunmen disguised in burqas storm college

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Taliban gunmen disguised in burqas storm Pakistan college

Taliban militants have stormed an agricultural training institute in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Initial reports suggest that at least nine people have been killed and more than 30 injured.

A group of Taliban insurgents, clad in burqas, reached the gates of Peshawar's Agriculture Training Institute in a rickshaw on Friday morning, before firing "indiscriminately" at guards and students.

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"A number of people have been injured and the military and other law enforcement agencies are carrying out an operation to clear the area," said Peshawar police chief Muhammad Tahir Khan.

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According to reports citing hospital officials, at least nine people were killed in the attack and around 35 injured.

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Local media reported that police and the army reached the compound shortly after the attackers breached the entrance. Intermittent gunfire and explosions could be heard from inside the complex for about two hours.

It is believed that there were five attackers in total, all of whom were killed in ensuing battle with security forces.

A residential area within the training compound was also evacuated.

Television footage showed walls sprayed with bullets, blood stains and broken glass scattered across the floor. 

A wounded student told Reuters news agency that most of the residents in the university hostel had gone home for the long weekend. Of the 400 students housed in the complex, only around 120 were on campus when the shooting started. "We were sleeping when we heard gunshots. I got up and within seconds everybody was running and shouting 'the Taliban have attacked,'" the student said.

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Tehreek-e-Taliban claims responsibility

A spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban, a Pakistani branch of the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

"Our mujahids have attacked the building because it was used as office for ISI," said speaker Muhammad Khurasani, referring to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. "God willing our fighters will fight till the last drop of blood."

Tehreek-e-Taliban is fighting to topple Pakistan's government and impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law. In December 2014, insurgents killed 151 children at Peshawar's Army Public School, one of the single deadliest attacks in Pakistan's history.

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A country on edge

Friday's attack came amid heightened security across Pakistan as it celebrates the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. "These terrorists have no religion as they attacked on a day which is very sacred and the nation was celebrating it," said chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province Pervez Khattak.

Security forces are also on high alert following weeks of violent anti-blasphemy protests, led by the Islamist group Tehreek-i-Labaik (TiL), in the capital of Islamabad, which saw seven people killed and hundreds wounded, as demonstrators clashed with police forces.

The violence spread to other major Pakistani cities last weekend, including Lahore and Karachi, after police and paramilitary forces launched a bungled attempt to clear a sit-in.

The protests were finally ended under a military-brokered deal between lawmakers and TiL.


Nationwide protests and clashes

There have been several fatalities and scores of people have been injured in clashes between the protesters and security forces in Islamabad on Saturday. In the southern city Karachi at least 27 people were injured in clashes. Protests also led to the closure of a main road in Lahore. The developments have paralyzed everyday life major cities with violence erupting in 9 cities across the country.


Media blackout over 'violation' of law

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has banned all broadcasting for a second day. It argues that media outlets violated government policy by showing live coverage of security operations. Key social media sites also remained blocked. Journalists have condemned the action, saying it will lead to the spread of 'false news' on social media.


Goverment acts after three weeks

On Saturday, some 8,500 armed security personnel confronted Islamists, who responded by blocking roads, throwing stones and setting vehicles alight. Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets. They were unable to gain control over the situation which led to the government requesting military assistance. There has been no official response from the army.


'Intolerance' on display in Pakistan

On November 6, roughly 2,000 members of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakiatn began a sit-in in Islamabad after the government amended the text of an oath for parliamentarians. It was seen as a softening of the previous stance towards the minority Ahmadi sect, which was declared non-Muslim by the Pakistani parliament in 1974. The change was quickly reversed.


'Inaction' causes situation to deteriorate

Demonstrators linked the amendment to blasphemy, a sensitive charge in conservative, Muslim Pakistan. There have since been calls for the resignation of law minister, Zahid Hamid. Civilian governments in Pakistan have a history of being slow to react in such situations. In this case, the Islamabad high Court ordered the government to take action and clear the public roads.


Protests are 'highly disturbing'

Foreign analysts have described the success of the protest as 'highly disturbing' as it demonstrates 'the clout and impunity' enjoyed by religious hardliners in Pakistan. The military is yet to respond to the government's call for help. However, any military intervention is fraught in Pakistan, which has seen multiple coups in its 70-year history.

dm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)