Pakistan university reopens one month after deadly attack

AFP , Monday 15 Feb 2016

Pakistan attack
Pakistan University attack: Pakistani troops and rescue workers gather at the main gate of Bacha Khan University in Charsadda town, some 35 kilometers (21 miles) outside the city of Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 (Photo: AP)

A Pakistani university attacked last month by the Taliban reopened on Monday guarded by hundreds of police, highlighting a pervasive atmosphere of fear after the Islamist group vowed more strikes on schools.

Gunmen stormed Bacha Khan university in the northwestern town of Charsadda on January 20, killing teachers and students in a rampage that left 21 dead.

The attack shattered a growing sense of security in the troubled region a year after the Peshawar school massacre, in which more than 150 people -- mainly children -- were killed.

"I am very happy to announce that the university has been reopened today but amid very strict security," vice chancellor Fazal Rahim Marwat told AFP, saying the objective was "to defeat the mindset of militants".

A sense of panic has gripped parents across Pakistan in the wake of the university assault, with rumours of attacks leading to closures of educational institutions.

Last week a government-run girls' college in Rawalpindi evacuated hundreds of students following an exchange of gunfire between police and car thieves nearby.

It followed a similar incident at a girls' high school in the central city of Faisalabad just weeks earlier.

At the university on Monday police and commandos were seen taking up positions on rooftops, while students passed through body scanners and were frisked before entering.

Marwat said the university had set up special camps for the psychological treatment of traumatised students.

"We have come to the university today with a firm commitment to uphold sacrifices of our fellow students," said Rehmat Ullah, 20, a student of in the biotechnology department.

Iftikhar Alam, a professor, added: "We are starting classes today to make it clear to the world that we are ready to defeat our enemies and those who want to plunge Pakistan into darkness and illiteracy."

The university attack was claimed by a faction of the Taliban, with its commander Khalifa Umar Mansoor calling schools "nurseries" for people who challenge Allah's law.

He said in a video last month that instead of targeting professional soldiers, "we will target the nurseries that produce these people".

Elsewhere on Monday a soldier was killed and another wounded by an improvised explosive device in the South Waziristan tribal region, bordering Afghanistan.

A security official told AFP the soldiers were sweeping the area for IEDs so a military convoy could pass when one exploded.

Pakistan has been fighting a homegrown Islamist insurgency since 2004, when militants displaced by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began a campaign in border tribal areas.

Three years later the umbrella Pakistani Taliban group was formed.

Overall levels of violence have fallen since a concerted military push against the Taliban's bases began in 2014, and last year saw the fewest casualties among civilians and security forces since 2007.

But the threat of attacks, particularly on "soft targets" like schools, remains.

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