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Peshawar School Was 'Almost Obvious' Target For Pakistani Taliban


We begin this hour with today's shocking terrorist attack in Pakistan. Gunmen entered a military-run school in Peshawar and began executing children. The military says 132 students and nine staff members were killed.


On Pakistani television, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack and said the country is grieving.


PRIME MINISTER NAWAZ SHARIF: (Foreign language spoken).

CORNISH: Sharif also vowed to continue an aggressive operation against the militants behind the attack. The Pakistan Taliban has claimed responsibility. In a moment, we'll hear more about the Prime Minister's approach to the group.

BLOCK: First to Peshawar where Jonathan Boone has been covering the day's events. He's Pakistan correspondent for The Guardian. I asked him to describe what happened.

JONATHAN BOONE: The attack began early in the school day. Attackers armed with weapons and carrying - we're told - suicide bomb vests essentially climbed over the back wall of a school, which is in a highly secure part of the city, which features many of the sons of officers in the Pakistani army, and yet these people simply climbed into the school. They were initially mistaken for students late to class who were sneaking in over the back wall. But it soon became apparent that they were there to attack and kill as many students (unintelligible) as possible. Commandos in the Pakistani army spent much of the afternoon regaining control of the school, escorting out survivors - many of whom were rushed to hospital - and then even after the attackers had been killed, defusing some of the IEDs, which apparently they left throughout the school for the rescuers to find.

BLOCK: You mention that the school is largely for the sons of people serving in the Pakistani army. Does that explain why this school was chosen as a target by the Pakistani Taliban?

BOONE: It's not just army officers' children. There are also many affluent civilians who send their children there. But yes, this is a almost obvious target for the Pakistani Taliban. They are in a state of all out war with the Pakistani army. Many army facilities are obviously heavily secured, difficult to attack. And whilst there was some military security on this school, it didn't have nearly the level of security as a full-blown military facility.

BLOCK: Jonathan, you've been talking with some teachers who survived this assault and parents of some of the students who were injured. What else have they told you about what happened today?

BOONE: It was like any other school day. I mean, one teacher I talked to was supervising an exam. About 60 people were just getting down to going through their test when the firing began. And as I said, these gunmen moved through, killing indiscriminately - children and staff being executed, some at point-blank range. There have also been reports that some of these people warned children who they were about to kill to essentially say their prayers, to say their last prayers and prepare for death.

BLOCK: There has been no shortage of bloody, deadly attacks by the Pakistani Taliban. How does this one compare?

BOONE: In terms of numbers, it seems to be the most, perhaps the worst ever, in a single attack. And these mass civilian attacks tend to involve large bombs. This, as we know, involved gunmen going around essentially executing as many people as possible with the vast majority of them being young boys. I've covered quite a few terrible massacres in my time in Pakistan. But this has horrified the nation in a way that none of the others that I witnessed really have.

BLOCK: Jonathan Boone is Pakistan correspondent for The Guardian. We reached him in Peshawar. Mr. Boone, thank you very much.

BOONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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