A group of militants has stormed a university in north-west Pakistan in an ongoing attack that has left at least 30 dead and dozens injured.
The gunmen entered the Bacha Khan university in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, at about 9.30am local time, apparently using the cover of thick morning fog, and opened fire on students and teachers in classrooms and accommodation blocks.
The death toll rose as the attack unfolded. At midday local time (7am GMT) a provincial minister put the toll at 30, though unverified reports from eyewitnesses suggested it could rise much higher.
Naseer, a 23-yea-old student, said he counted 56 bodies and saw gunmen shooting male and female students “without discrimination”. “They were directly shooting at the heads of the students,” he said.
Iftikar Khan, the owner of a travel agency in Charsadda, visited the city hospital where he estimated a stream of ambulances delivered well over 100 bodies. “A lot of them were girls,” he said.
Shabir Khan, a lecturer in the English department, said he was about to leave the hostel for the department when firing began.
“Most of the students and staff were in classes when the firing began,” Khan said. “I have no idea about what’s going on but I heard one security official talking on the phone to someone and said many people had been killed and injured.”
Dozens of people were wounded. Salman Khan, an operating theatre technician at the Charsadda district hospital, said the critically injured had head and chest wounds. Fifty of the most seriously wounded have been moved to the larger Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, the nearby provincial capital, he said.
Television footage showed soldiers entering the campus as ambulances lined up outside the main gate and anxious parents consoled each other.
Four of the gunmen have been killed by security forces, an army spokesman claimed on Twitter. Reuters reported that Pakistan police were claiming to have cornered some of the gunmen on the second and third floors of the university.
“We launched an operation inside the university and are trying to rescue the students and staff of the institution,” Deputy Inspector General Saeed Wazir told the news agency. “All students have been evacuated from the hostels, but militants are still hiding in different parts of the university and some students and staff are stuck inside.”
Wazir said the number of gunmen was unclear but police had moved into the university and a gunfight with the attackers was under way.
The university’s vice chancellor, Fazal Raheem Marwat, told Agence France-Presse the gunmen were still on the rampage and students were trapped on the campus.
“Gunmen have entered the university campus from the southern side,” he said.
“There are male and female staff members and students on the campus,” he said, saying he had been on his way to work when he was informed of the attack.
“There was no announced threat but we had already beefed up security at the university.”
More than 3,000 people were reported to be on the campus, which lies about 100km north-west of Islamabad.
Pakistan had killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants under a counter-terrorism plan enacted after a massacre of school children in December 2014 in its volatile north-west. (The Guardian)