By Staff Reporter
At least 126 people, mostly children, have been killed in a Taliban assault on an army-run school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, officials say.
All six of the militants who entered the building are said to have been killed, at least one of them in a suicide blast.
However, the army has not declared the operation over. Most of the 500 students have been evacuated.
The attack is being seen as one of the worst so far in Pakistan.
The BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani in Karachi says the militants appear to have been intent on killing as many students as possible – rather than taking hostages, as initially thought.
Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in militant violence in recent years – but the latest attack has caused unprecedented shock.
A spokesman for the militants told BBC Urdu that the school had been targeted in response to army operations.
Hundreds of Taliban fighters are thought to have died in a recent military offensive in North Waziristan and the nearby Khyber area.
Many of the casualties at the Army Public School were reportedly caused by the suicide blast. More than 100 of the dead were children, a local official told Reuters news agency.
Irshadah Bibi, a woman who lost her 12-year-old son, was seen beating her face in grief, throwing herself against an ambulance.
“O God, why did you snatch away my son?” AFP news agency quotes her as saying.
The attack started at 10:00 local time (05:00 GMT). Mudassir Awan, a worker at the school, said he had seen six people scaling its walls.
“We thought it must be the children playing some game,” he told Reuters news agency. “But then we saw a lot of firearms with them.
“As soon as the firing started, we ran to our classrooms,” he said. “They were entering every class and they were killing the children.”
Eyewitnesses told Geo TV station that the attackers had entered the school auditorium, where a military team was conducting first-aid training for students.
Locals reported hearing the screams of students and teachers. The dead are said to also include teachers and a paramilitary soldier.
Gunfire and explosions were heard as security forces hunted down the militants.
Ambulances have been carrying the injured to hospitals. Helicopters are also in the area. Major roads in Peshawar have been sealed off.
A doctor at the local Lady Reading hospital said many of the students were in “very bad condition”, with head wounds.
Frantic parents are gathering at hospitals to find out if their children are safe.
The school is near a military complex in Peshawar. The city, close to the Afghan border, has seen some of the worst of the violence during the Taliban insurgency in recent years.
Many of the students were the children of military personnel. Most of them would have been aged 16 or under.
Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani Nobel laureaute who was shot by the Taliban for campaigning for the right to an education, has also condemned the attack.
“I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters, but we will never be defeated,” she said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has just arrived in Peshawar, described the attack as a “national tragedy”.
Pakistani opposition leader and former cricket captain Imran Khan condemned it as “utter barbarism”.
The BBC’s Owen Bennett Jones says Pakistan’s politicians have for years hesitated to back the army campaign against the Taliban.
However, by killing so many children, the militants may have managed to unite the politicians and the army.
A Taliban spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying the school had been attacked because the “government is targeting our families and females”.