Death toll in Pakistan school killings rises to more than 140

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"'God is great,'" the Taliban militants exclaimed, as they roared through the hallways of a Peshawar, Pakistan, school.

Then, 14-year-old student Ahmed Faraz recalled, one of them changed the narrative.

" 'A lot of the children are under the benches,' " a Pakistani Taliban member said, according to Ahmed. " 'Kill them.' "

By the time the hours-long siege at Army Public School and Degree College ended early Tuesday evening, at least 141 people -- 132 children plus nine staffers -- were dead, military spokesman Gen. Asim Bajwa said. More than 100 were injured, many suffering gunshot wounds, according to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani.

Most of those who died were between the ages of 12 and 16, said Pervez Khattak, chief minister of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Peshawar is located.

 

Scaling the walls

In a telephone call to CNN, the Pakistan Taliban -- Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) -- said six suicide bombers scaled the walls of the school with orders to kill older students about 10 a.m.

The Taliban said "300 to 400 people are under the custody of the suicide bombers."

The military had earlier said most students and teachers had been evacuated.

Revenge attack

Mohammed Khurrassani, the TTP spokesman, told CNN the attack was revenge for the killing of hundreds of innocent tribesmen during repeated army operations in provinces including South Waziristan, North Waziristan and the Khyber Agency -- all restive regions along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

For the past few months, the Pakistan military has been conducting a ground offensive aimed at clearing out militants in these areas. The campaign has displaced tens of thousands of people.

Northwestern Pakistan is home to loosely governed tribal areas. It's also a base for foreign fighters and a refuge for members of the Taliban and other militant groups.

Violent past

The military offensive in the region has spurred deadly retaliations.

In September, choir members and children attending Sunday school were among 81 people killed in a suicide bombing at the Protestant All Saints Church of Pakistan. A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the church attack, blaming the U.S. program of drone strikes in tribal areas of the country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rushed to Peshawar, declared three days of mourning, and said he would personally oversee the operation to flush out the militants.

Peace falters

As recently as last spring, The Taliban and the Pakistani government were involved in peace talks. The government released 19 Taliban noncombatants in a goodwill gesture.

But talks broke down under a wave of attacks by the Taliban and mounting political pressure to bring the violence under control.

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