PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Taliban gunmen attacked a school van in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing four children and the driver in an assault they said was carried out to punish local tribesman for resisting the insurgent movement.
At least 12 boys, two girls and two female teachers were wounded in the attack in Matani on the outskirts of the main northwestern city of Peshawar, said police officer Qayyum Khan.
Two local tribal leaders in Matani have formed militias to stop militant infiltration into Peshawar from the nearby border regions with Afghanistan. They get government financial and logistical help, and have killed or captured many militants over the last 18 months.
In return, they and their families have been targeted by the militants, who controlled the area until three years ago. Its proximity to the tribal regions and the main northwestern city of Peshawar make it highly strategic.
"This was to teach them a lesson, and we will continue to carry out attacks wherever and whenever possible, no matter if it is a school or a school bus," said Mohammad Afridi, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman in the Dara Adam Khel region, which is close to Matani.
Another police officer, Ejaz Khan said five gunmen armed with assault rifles and rocket launchers attacked the van, which was taking students from the Khyber Grammar School. He said no rocket fire hit the van and that all the dead students were boys between the ages of 10 and 15.
UNICEF expressed shock.
"This outrageous attack carried out on young children at their most vulnerable — on a school bus — is deeply distressing. Such an attack strikes at the most fundamental values of families in Pakistan and everywhere to have a safe and protective environment for their children and (is) a violation of children's right to education," said Dan Rohrman, a UNICEF representative in Islamabad.
Militants seeking to overthrow Pakistan's Western-backed government have carried out hundreds of attacks in recent years, mostly against security force, civilian or state targets. The army, supported by the United States, is battling the insurgents in several regions, but the extremists have proved resilient.
Elsewhere in the northwest, the bodies of two young men were found with a note saying they were killed by the Pakistani Taliban for spying on one of its commanders. They were found in their home village of Pahar Khel in Lakki Marwat district, said police officer Syed Khan. They had been shot.
Associated Press writer Rasool Dawar and Ishtiaq Meshud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.