PESHAWAR: Unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a school van in Swat’s Charbagh area in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing the driver and injuring one student, police said.
Insurgents from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) took partial control of Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2007, before being ousted two years later in a major military operation hailed as a telling blow against militant violence. During this time, militants unleashed a reign of terror, killing and beheading politicians, singers, soldiers and opponents. They banned female education and destroyed almost 200 girls’ schools.
In recent weeks, there have been widespread reports of a return of militants to the valley. Last month, a bombing claimed by the TTP killed eight people, including influential anti-Taliban leader Idrees Khan, in what was the first major bombing in the area in more than a decade.
Monday’s attack was also reminiscent of the 2012 Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai, who was targeted, aged 15, for defying the militant group with her outspoken views on women’s right to education. Yousafzai survived the attack and won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the world’s youngest Nobel laureate.
The school van on Monday morning was dropping about 10 students at school when it was attacked by armed gunmen on a motorcycle, police said in a statement.
“An incident of (gun) firing on a school van driver happened in Tehsil Charbagh. As a result of the firing, the school van driver (named Hussain Ahmad, aged 30-32) was killed and a child has minor injuries and was shifted to a nearby hospital. His condition is now normal,” the press release said.
Police said that a motorcycle helmet and a jacket had been recovered from the scene: “The district Swat Police were present on the spot and a search operation has been initiated in the area.”
A local spokesperson for Rescue 1122, Shafiqa Gul, said that the service arrived at the scene immediately, confirming that the driver was killed, while the students in the van had been moved to the Khwaza Khela Hospital.
Swat Police spokesperson Moin Fayaz said that an investigation was in progress and that no group had as yet accepted responsibility for the attack.
Locals in the area fear that the Monday assault was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban, but the militant group has denied responsibility.
Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesperson for the TTP, condemned the attack and said that the group was not involved.
Family members of the students and civil society activists protested in the Gali Bagh area of Swat, with the body of the deceased driver placed on the road. Israr Ahmad, the driver’s brother, told media that the family had no personal enmities.
AFP reported that the attack led up to 2,000 girls and boys to walk out of classes in protest.
Sawab Khan, executive secretary of the Private School Association Management of Swat, said that all private schools in the district of Swat would remain closed on Tuesday as a mark of condolence. He also announced a protest by schools at Swat’s Nishat Chowk at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
“If the culprits are not arrested in 24 hours, the protest will be extended to all the districts of the province,” Khan said.