DERA ISAMAIL KHAN, Pakistan – The head of a breakaway Taliban faction behind this week’s attack at a northwestern Pakistani university that killed 21 people, most of them students, threatened on Friday to carry out more such attacks on schools and universities across the country.
Wednesday’s brazen assault at the Bacha Khan university in the town of Charsadda stunned Pakistanis. Islamic militants stormed the campus, gunning down students and teachers, and triggering a gunbattle that lasted for hours before the four gunmen were slain and the military declared an end to the siege.
It echoed the horrifying 2014 attack by the Taliban on an army-run school in the nearby city of Peshawar that left 150 dead, 144 of them children, and raised yet again questions about whether Pakistan’s security forces are able to protect the country’s educational institutions from extremists.
The leader of the splinter Taliban group that claimed responsibility for the attack, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, said in a video released Friday on social media that the Charsadda assault was just the start and promised his followers would hit the “evil democratic system” at its base.
Mansoor said Pakistan’s educational institutions provide the future workforce for the military and the government – all of which work against the “will of God.”
“Pakistan’s evil democratic system, its military and political leadership have these educational institutions as their nurseries,” Mansoor said. “It is from there they get their people, these institutions bear them fruit.”
Along with Mansoor’s threats, the video shows a presumably older segment of the four gunmen from the Charsadda assault practicing with assault rifles at an undisclosed location. The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified but it was similar to previous messages released by the group.
Although Mansoor’s group quickly took responsibility for the university attack, a spokesman for the larger Taliban organization, led by Mullah Fazlullah, denied having anything to do with it and called it “un-Islamic.” Muhammad Khorasani, the Tehrik-e-Taliban spokesman, said they also disown Mansoor’s group.
After the 2014 Peshawar school massacre, Taliban militants were united in taking responsibility for the violence and some analysts say that the divisions now in the Taliban over Wednesday’s attack probably have more to do with a fear of retribution than a reflection of a deeply fractured and split militant movement.
Associated Press Writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.