Baqar Ali, a survivor of the Peshawar attack, told DW how the assault on his school changed his life forever. The 14-year-old lost his mother and many friends in the Taliban attack, but refuses to give up on education.
"I went to the school a little late that day. After three lectures, the school administration told us to go to the main auditorium to receive information on first aid," says Baqar Ali, a 14-year-old ninth-grade student of the Peshawar-based Army Public School. "That is when the gunmen stormed the hall and started firing. One militant said to the other in Persian, 'Don't spare anyone.'"
On December 16, over 130 children were killed in a militant attack on the army-run school in the capital city of Pakistan's restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
"Then one of them shot me and I became unconscious," Ali told DW. "The militants thought I was dead. When I regained consciousness after around thirty minutes, I dragged myself to the other part of the school. I was told by other children and the school staff hiding in a room that the troops were on the way. The security forces came after two hours. That was the most difficult and painful time of my life."
By the time the military operation against the extremists was over and the troops managed to free the hostages, Ali had found out that his mother, who was a teacher in the school, had been killed. Many of his friends had been murdered, while others were left seriously wounded.
The Islamist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) outfit claimed responsibility for the assault. "This attack is a response to Zarb-e-Azb military offensive and the killing of Taliban fighters and the harassment of their families," TTP spokesman Muhammad Khorasani told AFP news agency on December 16.
"They (the assailants) include target killers and suicide attackers," Khorasani added. "They have been ordered to shoot the older students but not the children." In the Taliban's Islamist ideology a 14-year-old boy is probably not a child, but the December 16 massacre scarred Ali's life forever.
'I will continue to study'
"I won't give up on education and fulfill my mother's dream," Ali said with teary eyes. "And I will study in the same school." Ali said the government should punish the attackers in the severest possible way: "They killed so many kids mercilessly … they deserve a painful death."
Ali, who wants to become an air force pilot, says he has not been in touch with any of his friends and classmates since the attack. "The school will reopen on January 5. I look forward to meeting them," he said.
'May God bless the nation!'
For the parents and relatives of the hundreds of students, December 16 was a horrifying day. Abid Ali Shah, Ali's father, is a government servant. He told DW that his son's friends called him on that day and told him that the school had been attacked and that Ali was in a hospital.
"I didn't believe them. Then I kept calling my wife, who didn't pick up her phone. I rushed to the school to discover that the troops had already surrounded the building. They were trading gunfire with the militants. My other son, also a school student, managed to escape. Ali survived, but my wife couldn't," Shah said.
Shah told DW he didn't care who attacked the school. It didn't matter to him now, he said. "What could be the motive behind slaughtering innocent children? The attackers will definitely be punished by Allah whether the government acts against them or not," he said.
He said he did not believe in revenge. "According to the newspaper reports, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings. What can we do about it? We can only pray for Allah's blessings. The Pakistani nation needs it."