Looking back: Schools as killing fields

A brief history of deadly attacks on schools worldwide.

The attack on the Peshawar school is only the latest in a long line of attacks on school children [AP]

On Tuesday, seven armed men entered a school in the northwestern Pakistani town of Peshawar. The attackers, dressed in army fatigues and strapped with suicide bombs, rounded up students and teachers of the school and opened fire.

At the latest count, at least 142 people were killed in the attack, including 132 children, in what will go down as one of the bloodiest operations ever conducted by the armed group. 

As Pakistan and the world reacted with revulsion to the horrific crime, the attack brought back memories of similar such dastardly acts in the past. 

Time and again, the past decade has demonstrated that places of learning are no safer than traditional military targets as asymmetrical warfare continues to proliferate across the globe. 

As recently as August 2014, Israel bombed a school, sheltering some 3,000 Palestinians, during their invasion of Gaza, In Nigeria, the armed group Boko Haram has repeatedly raided schools over the past five years, killing indiscriminately in the name of opposing Western education. The abduction of more than 200 girls from Chibok in April 2014 as also stands out in its heinousness.

Al Jazeera rounds up some of the biggest attacks on schools over the past two decades.


United States | 20 April 1999: Two students, dressed in trench coats, entered the Columbine High school in Littleton, Colorado, opening fire indiscriminately on students. Twelve students were killed along with a school teacher and 20 others were injured. The attackers then killed themselves.

The tragedy sparked a national conversation on gun control laws, bullying in school and even violence in popular culture. The incident also prompted the production of Michael Moore’s award winning documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’ – focusing on gun-control law in the US

Columbine is still considered one of the deadliest school shootings in the country’s history. [Image: AP]

Russia | 1 September 2004:  Chechen rebels, calling for recognition of Chechnya at the UN and for the Russian withdrawal from Chechnya, took over a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in Russia.

More than 1,100 people, including teachers, children and parents, were held hostages as the rebels barricaded themselves inside the school. The hostages were held in the gymnasium and rebels threatened to blow up the school if security forces attempted to the breach the school’s parameter.

After three days, Russian security forces, using heavy weaponry, stormed the school. In the firefight that ensued, more than 300 people were killed, including more than 185 children.

Following the operation, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, said the decision to go into the school was not planned, and was only taken after the attackers started shooting at the students. [Image: AFP]


United States | 14 December 2012 Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his mother at their home in Newtown, Connecticut. He then put on black fatigues, a military vest, and drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, with a semi-automatic assault rifle and two pistols. Lanza opened fire on the students at the school, killing 20 children and six members of staff.  

Lanza went on to shoot himself in the head as soon as authorities arrived.

The Sandy Hook incident is considered the deadliest shooting at a high school in US history. Like the shooting at Columbine, the tragedy sent shockwaves across the country, placing gun laws under intense public scutiny. [Image: Getty]

Nigeria | 6 July 2013: Armed gunmen, suspected to be Boko Haram fighters, invade a boarding school in Mamudo village, in Nigeria’s Yobe State.  Around 42 people, including 20 students are killed in the attack.
According to survivors, the attackers rounded up students before shooting at them. Other students were burned alive, with local media reporting that some children were burnt so badly, parents found it difficult to identify them.

Ibrahim Gaidam, Yobe governor, described the incident as “cold-blooded murder” while the European Union condemned the incident, describing it as a “horrific murder by terrorists”. [Image: AP]


Iraq | 6 October 2013 A suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with explosives on a playground of an elementary school in Qabak, Iraq, killing at least 15 people, including children and the school’s headmaster.

The single-storey school in the Shia Turkome village of Qabak in northern Iraq, collapsed as a result of the powerful explosion.

Abdul al-Obaidi, the mayor of Qabak, described the attack as “a crime against humanity”.  “The terrorists are trying to stop us from living and sending our children to school, but they will not, as we have our unity,” he said. Many other students suffered severe injuries and were taken to hospital.

The attackswere seen as part of a wave of killings in 2013, considered to be among the deadliest periods in the country since 2008. [Image: Reuters]


Nigeria | 14–15 April 2014 Heavily armed Boko Haram fighters entered a government-run boarding secondary school in the town of Chibok in Nigeria’s Borno State, abducting more than 200 schoolgirls from their dormitories. The incident earned the armed group international notoriety.

The abduction also prompted feverish hashtag activism with #BringBackOurGirls becoming the centre of online campaigning for the return of the schoolgirls. Some schoolgirls managed to escape, but it is still not clear if the others were still alive, and if so, if they were still in Nigeria itself. [Image: AFP]


Nigeria | 10 Nov 2014 A suicide bomber attacked a school in the town of Potiskum, in Nigerian state of Yobe. At least 47 people, most of them students, were killed instantly when the explosion ripped through the secondary school during the morning assembly.

“There was an explosion detonated by a suicide bomber. We have 47 dead and 79 injured,” Emmanuel Ojukwu, national police spokesman, said.

Officials said that the armed group Boko Haram was responsible for the attack. [Image: AP]  


Pakistan | 16 December 2014  Pakistan Taliban fighters, dressed in paramilitary uniform and suicide vests. entered a military school in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, going on to shoot teachers and students.

More than 142 people were killed in the gun-and-bomb attack, including 132 students. A large contingent of Pakistani soldiers conducted a rescue operation resulting in a fierce gunfight. All seven attackers were killed. Pakistan’s government declared three days of national mourning.

The Pakistan Taliban have long been known to oppose girls’ education, which cluminated in the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in 2012.  [Image: EPA] 

Source: Al Jazeera

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