By BosNewsLife Asia Service
PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD (BosNewsLife)-- Christians were among those grieving as officials confirmed that Taliban militants stormed an army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar killing at least 145 people, most of them children.
"We grieve with our dear friends, mums and dads and brothers and sisters," said Sardar Mushtaq Gill, national director of advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD). "Its absolutely horrific," he told BosNewsLife.
Witnesses said at least some seven Islamic fighters roared through the hallways of the Army Public School and Degree College shouting "Allah is Great".
Then one of them reportedly took a harsher tone. "A lot of the children are under the benches, " a Pakistani Taliban said, according to 14-year-old student Ahmed Faraz. "Kill them."
By the time the hours-long siege at the school ended later Tuesday, December 16, at least 145 people -- 132 children, 10 school staff members and three soldiers -- were dead, said military spokesman General Asim Bajwa.
More than 100 were injured, many with gunshot wounds, according to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani. Most of the bodies were discovered when Pakistani troops eventually stormed the building.
Earlier reports said 141 people were slain before government troops ended the assault eight hours later. At least 132 were children and nine were staff members. Another 121 students and three staff members were wounded.
The seven attackers, wearing vests of explosives, all died in the eight-hour assault. It was not immediately clear if they were all killed by the soldiers or whether they blew themselves up, officials said.
In a statement, the Pakistani Taliban said Tuesday's attack was in revenge against the Pakistani army due to its military operations in North Waziristan that began last June. The group is also known for threatening and attacking Christians.
Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, denounced the assault on the school as a "cowardly act" and vowed to continue the crackdown on militants.
Christians said the attack, the bloodiest in recent Pakistani history, came just one year after the Pakistani Taliban perpetrated a suicide bombing at of Peshawar's All Saints Church, which was widely considered the single deadliest attack on Pakistan's Christian community in the country's history.
On September 22, 2013, two suicide bombers connected to the Pakistani Taliban detonated their bombs outside the gates of All Saints Church.
Christians said the church had just concluded its Sunday service and over 600 members were exiting the church when the bombs exploded. Over 100 churchgoers were killed in that attack, which the Taliban claimed was revenge for the U.S. drone program in Pakistan.
Gill said tensions have also been fueled by controversial blasphemy legislation. Militants have often targeted groups, including Christians, for blasphemy against Islam. "We at LEAD strongly condemn it and demand from Pakístan's government to take serious steps to eradicate terrorism and religious extremism," Gill added. "Now is the time to take strong action against those who openly spread...hatred ,extremism and terrorism in the name of religion."
Bishop Humphrey Peters, the bishop of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), also condemned the attack on the school. "This is an inhuman act and the Christian community stands with the grieved families. All the churches will keep praying for the victims and will visit the families."
He said Christians throughout the province and FATA should cancel all Christmas celebrations, dinner parties and other holiday programs to show solidarity with the victims of this attack, the majority of whom are Muslim.
It was not immediately clear how many Christians were among those killed.
LEAD's Gill said the extremism also comes at a time when "Pakistani Christians are under constant persecution" including Asia Bibi, a Christian mother whose final appeal against a death sentence for blasphemy "is pending at the Supreme Court."
The regional manager for South Asia of advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) agreed. ""Religious extremism and terrorism continue to tear at the social fabric of Pakistan," the official, William Stark, told BosNewsLife.
"This latest attack comes as a reminder that extremists in Pakistan, like the Pakistani Taliban, are willing to commit any act of violence to establish their ideology."
He said his group along with Pakistan's Christian community has condemned this attack and "offers prayers of condolence for the families affected."
He complained that over a year has passed since Pakistan's Christian community "was shattered by the bombing" of All Saints Church.
"Like that incident, the extremists and militants have targeted the innocent and vulnerable. More must be done by Pakistan's government to secure the safety of its people and end the reign of terror directed by the Taliban."
(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since May 2004. Please help BosNewsLife to remain a voice of the voiceless. Click here for a subscription).
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