12/17/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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In a country in shock over Peshawar massacre, Islamabad bishop calls for unity against terrorism

by Jibran Khan
Mgr Rufin Anthony led a prayer vigil in memory of the victims of the Taliban attack on a military-run school, which killed 132 students, many of them children, and nine teachers. Survivors are now speaking about their dramatic experience. Christian and Muslim religious leaders, politicians and civil society groups unanimously condemn the attack. Pakistani prime minister ends moratorium on the death penalty.

Peshawar (AsiaNews) - "Terrorism is a global problem, and global was the condemnation for the killing of children and teachers. We must once again stick together, work together, despite their differences," said Mgr Rufin Anthony

The bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi spoke at a prayer vigil in the capital last night, where he condemned yesterday's Taliban massacre at a military school in Peshawar. In a country still in shock over this "terrible act of violence," the prelate added that "Today the world stands with Pakistan".

At present, the death toll stands at 132 pupils, plus 9 staff members, with most of the victims under the age of 16, and more than a hundred people wounded. Meanwhile, the first funerals got underway last night, resuming this morning. And the first details are now emerging about what happened inside the school with survivors starting to tell their harrowing stories.

"I think I passed out for a while," said Mohammad Hilal, a student who was shot in his arm and legs. "I thought I was dreaming," he added. "I wanted to move but felt paralysed. Then I came to and realised that actually two other boys had fallen on me. Both of them were dead."

Shahrukh Khan, 16, said he ducked below a desk when gunmen entered his classroom. "The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into the bodies . . . I saw death so close," he said.

In one case, a military source said, "They literally set the teacher on fire with gasoline and made the kids watch."

Sources indicate that a seven-member commando came into the school through the back, storming first the school auditorium where exams were underway. Going from class to class, they fired point-blank at students and teachers without distinctions with one teacher torched to death.

To mark one of the bloodiest slaughters in the history of Pakistan, crowds gathered for a candlelight vigil last night.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, in a statement signed by its National Director Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani and its Executive Director S. Cecil Chaudhry, condemned the "barbaric" and "cowardly" gesture.

As they expressed their solidarity and condolences to the victims' families, the leaders of the Catholic association appealed "to the government, political parties, religious leaders, civil society organisations and the judiciary" to "put aside" once and for all their "divisions," insisting that it was time to "stick together" to address "the threat of terrorism".

To achieve this, Pakistan's central and provincial governments as well as the intelligence agencies must take "serious and effective measures" to avert future "atrocities of this kind" and boost security for ordinary citizens, especially "the kids."

Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was almost killed in a Taliban attack for her support for women's and girls' education in Pakistan, especially in extremist-held areas, said she was "heartbroken" by yesterday's barbarism in Peshawar.

"We should stand up together and fight against terrorism and we should make sure every child gets safe and quality education," said the 17-year-old girl-power and education activist.

Around the world, political leaders and religious authorities were unanimous in their condemnation, including Pope Francis who spoke today at the general audience. Even the Afghan Taliban and other fundamentalist movements criticised the massacre.

In the wake of the tragedy, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced three days of national mourning. His office also announced an end to the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism introduced in 2008. However, no details were given as to when executions would resume and who be executed.

Speaking on behalf Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Maulana Razik Khan expressed support for the Pakistani army and welcomed the death sentence for the terrorists signed by the prime minister today. 

Pakistan's army also announced that it launched air strikes at militants in the Khyber and North Waziristan areas, although it is not yet clear if this was a direct response to the school attack.

For its part, Pakistani Taliban through its spokesman Mohammad Khurasani said the militants had been "forced" to launch the operation in response to army attacks. In fact, he accused the military of killing the children and womenfolk of Taliban fighters and burning their homes.

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