Pakistan militants: Children’s massacre was to avenge army strikes

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — As Pakistan started three days of national mourning Wednesday, the Taliban said they targeted a school that mostly admits soldiers’ children because the students aspired to follow in their fathers’ footsteps and target militants.

Terrorists ambushed the school in Peshawar on Tuesday, explosives strapped to their bodies, and burst into an auditorium filled with students taking exams.

They sprayed bullets rapidly, killing 145 people. Of those, 132 were children, authorities said.

In an email, the terror group warned Muslims to avoid places with military ties, saying it attacked the school to avenge the deaths of children allegedly killed by soldiers in tribal areas.

Children drenched in blood

Pakistani troops eventually pushed through the buildings, room by room, and confined the attackers to four buildings.

They found children drenched in blood. Some of the bodies lay on top of others.

“Even the children are dying on the frontline in the war against terror,” said Khawaja Asif, the defense minister. “The smaller the coffin, the heavier it is to carry.”

By the time the siege ended in the evening, military officials said all seven militants were dead. It’s unclear whether they were killed by soldiers or they detonated their explosives. The casualty tolls don’t include the terrorists.

Violent past

Pakistan has seen plenty of violence, much of it involving militants targeting restive regions in northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

It is the home base of the Pakistan Taliban, known as the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan or TTP, which seeks to enforce its conservative version of Islam in Pakistan. The group has battled Pakistani troops and attacked civilians, including in Peshawar, an ancient city of more than 3 million people.

And the Taliban haven’t hesitated to go after schoolchildren. Their most notable target is Malala Yousafzai, who was singled out and shot in October 2012 as she rode to school in a van with other girls. The teenage girl survived and became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize last week for her efforts to promote education and girls’ rights.

Yousafzai said the attack left her heartbroken.

“Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this,” she said.

Afghan Taliban slam Pakistan counterparts

This is the deadliest incident inside Pakistan since October 2007, when 139 Pakistanis died and more than 250 others were wounded in an attack near a procession for exiled former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database.

Even the Taliban in Afghanistan, who are closely affiliated with their Pakistani counterparts, criticized the killing of women and children as against Islamic teaching.

The spokesman for the Afghan terror group expressed condolences to the victims of Tuesday’s attack.