An ambulance carrying injured victims enters a hospital on January 20.
Pakistani Taliban claims responsibility for attack
02:31 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

22 people died in attack timed to coincide with university memorial

Around 50 people being questioned in relation to Wednesday's attack

Conflicting claims of responsibility and denial emerge from the Pakistani Taliban

Islamabad, Pakistan CNN  — 

Militants raided a university in northwest Pakistan Wednesday, timing their attack to a ceremony at the school to ensure maximum casualties. They slaughtered at least 22 people, a provincial police authority told CNN.

The scent of burning metal hung in the air a few hours after the attack as a CNN crew made its way through the building where many were shot and wounded. Blood covered stairwells, the walls were pockmarked by bullets. Some of the students’ laundry still hung in a courtyard.

By Thursday, a day after the bloody attack occurred, Nasir Durrani, deputy inspector general of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said that police were questioning around 50 people for connections to the attack. No arrests have yet been made.

Militants had entered the university campus via a low wall at the back of the compound and made their way systematically across the grounds, throwing grenades and shooting, army spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa said.

Khyam Mashal, a student at the university, was in the boys’ hostel on the campus, where he lives, when the militants attacked.

He was sleeping when a friend woke him to tell him that terrorists were attacking the school.

He says he was “shocked” that the attackers had breached the school’s security.

“I looked through the window so there were two, three people firing, and I think they were the terrorists,” he said. “I’m so afraid… my country is not safe. I’m not feeling comfortable.”

Conflicting claims

Bacha Khan University is in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, of which Peshawar is the provincial capital. The city, less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Charsadda, is where the Pakistani Taliban slayed 145 people, including 132 children, in a school attack in December 2014.

It’s unclear whether the group was responsible for this latest atrocity, with conflicting statements issued by the group.

One Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Umar Mansoor, said the attack was in retaliation for military operations against the group. Mansoor was also the mastermind behind the December 2014 attack, Pakistan’s DawnNews reported.

But another spokesman, Mohammad Khurrassani, from the Pakistani Taliban’s central organization, disavowed any role.

We “strongly condemn the attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda and disown the attack, saying this is not according to Shariah,” Khurrassani said.

Was attack retaliation?

Despite the conflicting statements from the Pakistani Taliban over responsibility, analysts say the attack probably is the work of the terror group.

“We’ve seen consistent operations by the Taliban up in this area,” CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd said. “I see this as simply as retaliatory, that is the Taliban saying, ‘If you’re going to bring Pakistani special forces and the army up into our turf, you’re going pay a heavy price.’”

The attack on the university was most likely to avenge military operations that have reduced the power of the Taliban, said Paul Cruickshank, a CNN terrorism analyst.

The central Taliban organization will deny the attack for political reasons, Cruickshank said.

“It’s very confusing, but all part of the local dynamics,” he said.

Caught off guard

Wednesday was the 28th anniversary of the death of the man the university is named after, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a 1920s Pashtun independence activist and pacifist also known as Bacha Khan. Guests were gathered at the university to pay tribute to the man when the militants came, said student Zahoor Khan.

Khan said he saw his chemistry professor shot while advising students to stay inside.