People across Pakistan have marked the first anniversary of the school massacre in Peshawar that left 151 people - mostly students - dead. The attack led to a severe crackdown on Islamic extremism.
Bearing images of students and teachers slain in the Peshawar attack, mourners congregated on Wednesday at the Army Public School where the deadly assault took place one year ago.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the memorial ceremony away from the victims' families. Opposition leader Imran Khan was also in attendance.
Military chief Raheel Sharif welcomed parents of the 134 children killed during the massacre, who earlier had visited their children's graves. Abu Bakar, a teacher who was shot three times during the massacre, told the AFP news agency, "We think a lot about the students who lost their lives."
Army Public Schools across the country joined in on marking the anniversary while schools in the Punjab and Sindh provinces were closed for security reasons.
High security amid crackdown on extremism
Security was tight in the city and across the country as Islamic extremism continues to be the chief security concern in Pakistan despite a heavy crackdown on the Taliban and other militant groups over the past year. Roads were closed off in Peshawar and hundreds of military personnel remained on high alert throughout the ceremony.
"Security has been beefed up throughout the country and additional police troops have been deployed in major cities, while paramilitary troops have been deployed at places deemed sensitive," a spokesman for the Interior Ministry told the AFP news agency.
Pakistan's military said it that had killed an estimated 3,400 guerrilla fighters in the past year in addition to a number of judicial executions of people accused of terrorism. The strategy led to 2015 being the year with the fewest deaths linked to extremist violence since 2007, but experts have said the country lacks a long-term plan to curb the root causes of extremism.
In an incident which sent shockwaves through the country, Taliban militants stormed the school in the north-western city, killing 151 people, mostly students, on December 16, 2014. The assault, carried out by nine gunmen, was the deadliest-ever extremist attack in Pakistan. Taliban fighters have used violent means before to stop children from attending schools.
A military trial conducted behind closed doors in August found seven militants linked to the Peshawar massacre guilty and handed death sentences to six of the defendants as well as one life sentence. Four of those convicted were hanged on December 2.
Families continue to mourn one year after the massacre, with many complaining that they were not consulted during the trial
Several of the victims' parents have complained about the lack of transparency in the case, demanding a full inquiry. Family members have said that they wanted answers about how the nation's strict security apparatus could have broke down so severely, complaining that no officials have been held accountable for failing to prevent the attack.
The attack has hardened public opinion against extremism in a country already traumatized by nearly a decade of deadly attacks.
Ceremony in Birmingham
Two survivors of the massacre attended a ceremony in the British city of Birmingham organized by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who herself had survived a 2012 Taliban attack. Yousafzai had been shot in the head in retribution for advocating education for girls.
One of the survivors of last year's attack, 14-year-old Ahmad Nawaz, spoke about the attack in which he was shot and his brother was killed.
"I saw my teacher burned alive in that incident and the friends with whom I was playing," he told the AFP news agency. "I was surrounded by the dead bodies of those friends. It was the horrifying experience of my life and I still have nightmares."
Fighting for an education
Back in Peshawar, 13-year-old student Uzair Khan told AFP that the Taliban wanted to stop their education so children would stay "ignorant like them."
"We don't want to do that. God willing, we will continue our education, move forward and avenge them," Khan said.
ss/sms (AFP, dpa)