Taliban attack leaves 148 people, mostly students, dead.
New Delhi — Amid worldwide condemnation of the deadly Taliban attack on an army school in Pakistan, which left 148 students and others dead, Pope Francis has joined the mourners.
“May God welcome the dead into his peace, comfort the families and convert the hearts of the violent ones, who do not even stop before children,” Pope Francis during his Wednesday general audience at the Vatican today.
Condemning "inhuman terrorist acts," including in Yemen and Australia, the Holy Father exhorted pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square to join him in a moment of silent prayer for the victims.
As many as 132 students and nine staff members, including Tahira Qazi , the principal, were killed in the Army Public School and College, located in Peshawar, on Tuesday. Others died overnight. The attack was carried out by heavily armed Taliban insurgents who entered the facility posing as army officers. The school serves predominantly children of army personnel; it enrolled over 1,000 students.
Describing the attack as "barbaric," the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace in a press statement today called it "one of the most horrific and inhumane acts."
“We grieve and stand with the families of the children affected and killed in this cowardly act,” it said.
“We plead to the governments, all political parties, religious leaders… and judiciary to set aside all their personal and political differences and join hands to end this menace of terrorism collectively,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, urged in the statement.
News reports said that armed rebels belonging to the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it was "retaliation" for ongoing military operations against the insurgents in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, nearly 13,000 lives have been lost in army operations from 2005 to February 2014 in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly known as North West Frontier Province, with Peshawar as its capital. These include over 4700 civilians, 1700 security forces and 6500 militants.
Reports say casualties have been much higher with the Pakistani security forces stepping up operations against the Taliban in 2014 in the porous border areas with Afghanistan, where the Taliban maintains power in remote hinterlands.
“The government both federal and provincial along with the intelligence agencies should take serious and effective measures to prevent such an atrocity,” pointed out the Catholic Commission.
Condemning the "heinous attack," The Cecil and Iris Chaudhry foundation set up in memory of outspoken Christian leader Cecil Chaudhry lamented that the Peshawar school massacre calls to mind an attack on a Protestant church in September 2013.
“We are once again preparing for mass burial, this time of little children,” pointed out Michelle Chaudhry, the foundation president.
On 22 September 2013, a twin suicide bomb attack at All Saints Church in Peshawar killed 127 worshippers and left over 250 injured. It was the deadliest attack on the Christian minority in the history of Pakistan.
Despite international columnists linking the Peshawar school to the Nobel Peace Prize being conferred on Pakistani schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai on December 10, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani claimed that it was a "revenge attack for the army offensive in North Waziristan."
Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in October 2012 for standing up for the education of girls in the troubled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the Taliban opposes the education of women.