Taliban gunmen on Tuesday broke into a military-run school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar and opened fire, killing at least 132 students and nine staff members.
It was the bloodiest massacre the country has seen for years, Reuters reported.
Responding soldiers killed all nine insurgents who carried out the attack, the military said.
More than 1,100 students, most of them children of army personnel, attended the secondary school.
Wounded children taken to nearby hospitals told the news agency that most victims died when gunmen, suicide vests strapped to their bodies, entered the compound and opened fire indiscriminately on boys, girls and their teachers.
Officials said 121 pupils and three staff members were wounded. A local hospital said the dead and injured were 10 to 20 years old.
The Taliban, waging war against Pakistan in order to topple the government and set up an Islamic state, immediately claimed responsibility.
“We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females,” said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani. “We want them to feel the pain.”
Witnesses said some of the gunmen wore Pakistani military uniforms, enabling them to slip past the school’s tight security. They communicated with each other in a foreign language, possibly Arabic, the witnesses said.
Pakistanis, used to almost daily militant attacks, were shocked by the scale of the massacre and the loss of so many young lives. It recalled the 2004 siege of a school in Russia’s Beslan by Chechen militants which ended in the death of more than 330 people, half of them children.
The United States, Pakistan’s ally in its fight against Islamist militants operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, swiftly condemned the attack.
“This act of terror angers and shakes all people of conscience … the perpetrators must be brought to justice,” US Secretary of State John Kerry was quoted as saying.
The Pakistani Taliban have vowed to step up attacks in response to a major army operation against the insurgents in the tribal areas.
But despite the crackdown this year, the military has long been accused of being too lenient toward Islamist militants who critics say are used to carry out the army’s bidding in places like Kashmir and Afghanistan. The military denies the accusations.
The Taliban have mainly targeted security forces, military bases and airports, but attacks on civilian targets with no logistical significance are relatively rare.
In September, 2013, however, dozens of people, including many children, were killed in an attack on a church, also in Peshawar in Pakistan’s northwest.
The assault on a school where officers’ children studied could push the armed forces into a more drastic response.
Army chief Raheel Sharif’s first public remarks after the attack reflected rising anger.
“These terrorists have struck the heart of the nation. But our resolve to tackle this menace has gotten a new lease of life. We will pursue these monsters and their facilitators until they are eliminated for good,” he said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif used similarly strong words. “We will take revenge for each and every drop of our children’s blood that was spilt today,” he was quoted as saying.
Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, joint winner of this year’s Nobel peace prize for education campaign work, said she was devastated.
“I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold-blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us,” Malala, who now lives in central England, said in a statement.
Malala herself was a survivor of an attack by Taliban militants who shot her in the head inside a school bus. The Pakistani Taliban are against Western-style education for children.
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