(Manzoor Ali | Dawn)
PESHAWAR: Police investigators probing the Friday attack on Peshawar’s Agriculture Training Institute (ATI) suspect that the planners of the attack apparently tricked the suicide bombers into believing that the facility was an intelligence agency’s office, it emerged on Saturday.
Nine people, including eight students, were killed and 28 others injured when three terrorists stormed the provincial agriculture department-run training institute on Friday morning. All the three terrorists were also killed in a two-hour-long operation.
A senior police official told Dawn that the planners had deliberately misled the attackers about the target. “ATI was apparently their actual target but they misled the attackers saying it was an intelligence agency office,” the official claimed.
He said it was apparently done to keep the attackers motivated. “The attackers asked students whether or not it was an intelligence agency office,” the official said.
The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. Its Umar Media Cell released a two-minute-long video of the attack in which one of the assailants apparently tried to confirm whether the building was an intelligence agency’s office.
In response to a student’s plea to spare his life, the attacker was heard saying he would not kill him if he told them whether or not this was an agency office.
Live broadcast of attack
The attack on the ATI located on University Road directly opposite the University of Peshawar campus was reminiscent of the deadly attacks on the Army Public School and Bacha Khan University, Charsadda.
Police investigators said it was the first incident that the attackers broadcast live to their handlers via a smartphone attached to one of the assailants’ body.
“They used some communication apps to live broadcast the attack,” said a police official.
It appears that the video released by the TTP was acquired from the same footage broadcast live by one of the militants.
Another official said that the attackers wore three suicide vests of relatively light-weight explosives which they did not use.
He said they carried about 20 hand-grenades and two IEDs. “It shows that they were there for a long battle,” the official said.
Police and security forces pinned down the terrorists holed inside the building after a two-hour-long gunfight. Authorities said the gunmen had been killed and security forces had cleared the area after searching for remaining militants.
The police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) lodged an FIR under Sections 302 (premeditated murder), 324 (attempted murder), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging their duty) and 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees) of the Pakistan Panel Code, Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 and Section 15 of the Arms Act.
The FIR states that the attack took place at around 8.35pm. Three burqa-clad attackers in a rickshaw first shot watchman Abdul Hamid at the ATI’s main gate and entered its building.
A police official told Dawn that the rickshaw used by the terrorists to reach the site carried a fake number plate.
About an ATI student’s claims that he snatched a gun from one of the attackers and confined him to a washroom and police subsequently shot him dead, the official said that the police were focusing on investigation at this stage. “We do not need to confirm what he is claiming,” he said
The ATI’s two-storey vaulted building houses classrooms, labs and close to 39 hostel rooms for students from remote parts of the province. A visit to the building shows that the attackers went from room to room, firing shots at unsuspecting students.
After getting inside the building, the attackers shot dead a student and another watchman standing at a gate opening to the eastern side of the building. Bloodstains are still visible in the corridor. They shot another student in shower on the ground floor. Bloodied footprint shows that someone had walked out with naked feet.
On the first floor, the attackers went from room to room and shot another student in room No 109, while another victim was shot in another washroom on the south-western tip of the building. A thick streak of blood is seen moving down to the ground from the top of a gate opening on western side of the building. “They shot a student here when he was about to jump down to safety from the hostel,” said Fazl Subhan, a dispenser at the facility.
He said the attackers then lodged themselves in the facility’s computer lab perched above the eastern tip of the building from where they engaged security forces.
The computer lab’s walls are riddled with bullets and a thick cover of red brick dust is all over the room. Thick bloodstains are visible on a passageway on the first floor just under the high vaulted ceiling.
At least two of the attackers were pinned down at the end of the corridor in front of the administration block.
Dr Iqbal Hussain, the institute’s deputy warden, told Dawn that he was at his home located adjacent to the institution when the firing started. He said minutes after the firing started three students scaled walls and jumped into his lawn seeking shelter.
“The firing was sporadic at the start but it intensified soon after,” Mr Hussain said.
Shujaat Ali, nephew of Dr Iqbal, said that members of his family remained trapped for about two hours. “Sensing the security personnel were all over the place, I wrote ‘help’ on a placard and thrown it to the other side of the house,” he said, adding that after a couple of minutes army personnel smashed the outer wall with an armoured personnel carrier and shifted them outside. “We spent night at a friend’s place and returned on Saturday morning,” Mr Ali said.
The enclosure also housed offices of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s directorate general of agriculture, crop reporting centre, district agriculture extension, directorate general of soil and water conservation and the Provincial Housing Authority besides over 30 houses of ATI employees.
On Saturday, the ATI’s management closed the institute for an indefinite period.
ATI’s vice principal Kamaluddin told Dawn that the institution had been closed till further orders. He said the institute offered three-year degrees in veterinary and agricultural sciences and currently enrolled 285 students. “Most of the students were away due to a long weekend at the time of attack,” Mr Kamal said.
He said the institute had not received any specific security alert. “We had installed security cameras after the APS incident,” he said.
This is the second major terror incident to hit the provincial capital within a week. Earlier on Nov 24 the KP police second-in-command Ashraf Noor was martyred in a suicide bombing in Hayatabad.