White House Condemns 'Gut-Wrenching' Taliban Siege that Left 132 Children Dead

( [email protected] ) Dec 16, 2014 02:34 PM EST
Taliban Attack in Pakistan
A mother mourns her son Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at her house in Peshawar. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The White House has condemned a "heinous" and "horrific" Taliban attack on a Pakistan school which has left over 130 children dead and has pledged to help the country "in any way possible."

NBC reports that after a two hours-long siege at Army Public School and Degree College by Islamic terrorists, 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.

"The images are absolutely gut wrenching," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "Young children carried away in ambulances, a teacher burned alive in front of students... a house of learning turned into a house of unspeakable horror."

"This is the world's loss...The perpetrators must be brought to justice and we pledge our full support to the people of Pakistan in this difficult hour and we will help them in any way we possibly can."

Taliban Attack in Pakistan
A soldier escorts schoolchildren after they were rescued from the Army Public School that is under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar. (REUTERS/Khuram Parvez)
Taliban Attack in Pakistan
Schoolchildren cross a road as they move away from a military run school that is under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar. (REUTERS/Khuram Parvez)

Mohammed Khurrassani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, revealed that the attack is being carried out to avenge the killing of hundreds of tribesmen in military operations in the provinces of South Waziristan, North Waziristan and the Khyber Agency. The army has said these operations were aimed at eliminating the presence of militants from the areas.

NBC reports that the attacks began at 11 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET) when about 1,000 students and teachers were believed to be inside.

"We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers," said Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver.

"The gunmen entered class by class and shot some kids one by one," one student who was in the Army Public School in Peshawar said.

Taliban Attack in Pakistan
Pakistani citizens weep as victims are carried out of Peshawar hospitals directly in their coffins. (AFP)

Pakistani security forces battled to stop the assault as the siege continued. Five explosions were heard nearby as bombs planted by the attackers slowed rescue efforts, a military official said, and the massacre was not declared over until several hours later.

Condemning the attack "in the strongest possible terms," Obama said Americans' hearts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and loved ones.

"By targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once again shown their depravity," he said. "We stand with the people of Pakistan, and reiterate the commitment of the United States to support the Government of Pakistan in its efforts to combat terrorism and extremism and to promote peace and stability in the region."

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson in a statement earlier Tuesday called the terrorist attack "senseless and inhumane."

"Few have suffered more at the hands of terrorists and extremists than the people of Pakistan," he said. "That is why it remains essential for the United States and Pakistan to continue to work together to secure peace and stability in the region."