By Khurram Shahzad
Students grieving for their classmates massacred by the Pakistani Taliban Thursday vowed to defy the militants and return to school as soon as possible.
A team of gunmen stormed the Army Public School in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday, slaughtering 148 people including 132 children in the restive country’s deadliest ever terror attack.
Schools in Islamabad beefed up security on Thursday and carried out safety drills amid fears of a possible bomb attack targeting school buses.
As the nation observed a second day of official mourning, at the school gates in Peshawar there was defiance and a burning desire for revenge against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose seven-year insurgency has killed thousands of ordinary people.
In Islamabad civil society activists protested outside the radical Red Mosque after its hardline cleric refused to condemn the massacre on a television talk-show.
Much of the school was devastated in the eight-hour rampage, with walls peppered with bullets and shrapnel from suicide blasts and walls and floors awash with blood.
But officials pledged to clean and restore the buildings and reopen on January 4 — less than three weeks after the attack.
There were emotional scenes outside the school as hundreds of students and parents gathered to light candles and leave flowers for the dead.
Mohammad Billal, 14, told AFP he would defy his parents’ advice to stay at home, and return to school as soon as he could.
“I will come the moment it opens because I am not scared of terrorists. I know how to send a message to them,” Billal said.
Moakal Jan, 13, lost nine of his friends in the attack but told AFP he too had no fears about returning.
“I study here in this school and I want to continue here, I will be back when it reopens. Life and death is in God’s hands,” Jan said.
Many of the school’s students are the children of army personnel, and like many of his friends, Jan said he wanted to punish the Taliban for Tuesday’s bloodshed.
“I want to be an army officer because I have to take revenge of my friends and school fellows,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old Abu Bakar agreed.
“Since my childhood I have wanted to join the army but now I am absolutely determined to join up,” he said.
“I want to take revenge for my friends, I want to fight the terrorists.”
More than 400 schools in Islamabad were warned of a possible plot to bomb buses carrying students in the capital, Mohammad Tahir Bhatti, spokesman for the Federal Directorate of Education told AFP.
“We received information from various sources that terrorists were planning to attack buses by attaching magnetic bombs and have alerted the managements of institutions accordingly,” Bhatti said.
Officials of the directorate were also holding meetings to review security arrangements and schools and colleges and also visiting schools and colleges to monitor them, Bhatti said.
One 11-year-old primary school student said teachers had drilled them in emergency exits and routes to safe locations in case of any danger.
“Teacher asked us not to panic and silently follow instructions in case of any dangerous situation,” he told AFP.
“We are very scared since terrorist killed children in Peshawar.”
The TTP claimed Tuesday’s assault as revenge for the killing of its fighters and their families in an ongoing military operation against its strongholds in the North Waziristan tribal area, and warned more attacks would follow.
The organisation, an increasingly fractious coalition of militant groups, has been weakened by the military operation but Tuesday’s events showed it still has the will and capability to carry out shocking acts of violence.
Khalifa Umar Mansoor, the TTP commander identified by security sources as the mastermind of the school massacre, said schools like the one in Peshawar were “preparing those generals, brigadiers and majors who killed and arrested so many fighters”.
“If our women and children died as martyrs your children will not escape. If you attack us we will take revenge for the innocents,” he said in a video message posted online.
The government Thursday issued an alert for a possible massive jailbreak in the restive northwest after the prime minister ended a moratorium on the death penalty in terror-related cases following the school attack.
Pakistan’s political and military leaders have vowed to stamp out the scourge of homegrown Islamist militancy that has brought so much bloodshed to the country in recent years.
The military said Thursday that air strikes in Khyber tribal area, which borders North Waziristan, had killed 57 militants.
But doubts remain about Pakistan’s willingness to abandon its long-held ambivalence over militant groups — tolerating those it sees as potential proxy forces.
An Islamabad anti-terrorism court on Thursday granted bail to the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, a move likely to anger India.