After four Taliban gunmen scaled the walls of a university in Pakistan on Wednesday, chemistry professor Syed Hamid Hussain opened fire to fend off attack as his pupils fled for their lives.
Hussain is one of perhaps 22 people killed in the attack, which began as Pakistan’s Bacha Khan University began classes for the day, the New York Times reported. The death toll hasn’t yet been verified, and though the Taliban have taken credit for the assault, it’s not clear if the Pakistan faction of the terror group was really responsible.
The shooting began under a heavy fog about 9 a.m. in Charsadda, Pakistan, located in the northwestern part of the country.
Gunmen wearing black turbans scaled the rear walls of the university, fired into the air, and declared “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.” The gunmen shot a security guard then headed to the administration buildings and male dorms, the Associated Press reported.
A witness, botany teacher Mohammed Ishtiaq, said two of the attackers fired automatic rifles on the first floor the university, where the other three remained on the ground floor. People fled for their lives in all directions.
Professor Hamid Hussain died trying to save his students in the Pakistan university attack https://t.co/2qdkEOkejR
— The Independent (@Independent) January 20, 2016
— Saba Baloch ISFツ (@SabaBalochPTI) January 20, 2016
In Hussain’s classroom, the teacher — now being called a “martyr” and a “gentleman” — ordered everyone to remain inside as the attack began, Agence France Presse reported. When it was time for them to escape, he opened fire on the gunmen to hold them off.
Three witnesses saw Hussain with a pistol in his hand, firing at the terrorists, and both saw as the terrorists “fired directly at the professor.”
“He was holding a pistol in his hand,” said student Zahoor Ahmed. “Then I saw a bullet hit him. I saw two militants were firing. I ran inside and then managed to flee by jumping over the back wall.”
Teachers in the region were permitted to carry guns in their classrooms after the Taliban stormed a school in nearby Peshawar last year, killing 150 people, most of them children. Wednesday’s university attack was believed to be retribution for the execution in December of four men convicted of aiding in that attack.
At Bacha Khan, the attack lasted for hours as police and soldiers traded gunfire. After several explosions were heard, four gunmen were contained to two university blocks and killed before they could detonate their suicide vests.
— CNN (@CNN) January 20, 2016
— ANI (@ANI_news) January 20, 2016
After the attack was over, bomb disposal experts rushed on scene to defuse the vests and the university campus searched and cleared. So far, it’s believed up to 22 people were killed, including students, Hussain, and four security guards. Nineteen more were wounded. Indian Express reported 25 killed and 50 wounded.
Sajjad Ahmed, a professor of sociology and gender studies, saw the gunmen shoot 12 students.
“I will not forget this terrible scene for rest of my life. Students were falling like someone was cutting down newly blossomed flowers.”
Though the Taliban have been weakened since attacks against their stronghold in northwest Pakistan since 2014, the terror group is still capable of carrying out large scale attacks. The terrorists killed 11 people in Peshawar Tuesday, but the group has been focusing its attentions on educational institutions. The group believe that students in non-military schools imperil the future of the jihadist movement and must be killed.
However, though the Taliban took credit for the university attack, Pakistan’s main faction called their actions “un-Islamic” and disowned the group. The various factions of the Taliban, including in Pakistan, are loosely linked and often deeply divided.
Bacha Khan was founded and named after a Pashtun activist called Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who advocated non-violent protest against British rule. A peace concert had been scheduled at the school on Wednesday, and 2,500 students and staff are believed to been on campus.
[Photo by B.K. Bangash/AP]