Gunmen have stormed a school in Pakistan’s volatile northwest, killing several teachers and gunning down another teacher from the school in a separate attack, according to officials.
In Kurram, a district in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders Afghanistan, a group of gunmen on Thursday stormed a government school where students were taking exams.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
The Associated Press reported that the seven teachers killed were members of Pakistan’s minority Shia community, which is frequently targeted by fighters.
Another teacher from the same school, a Sunni Muslim, was gunned down on the road in a separate attack earlier in the day in Kurram, according to local police official Abbas Ali.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks and Ali said it was not clear if they were linked.
“We are looking into all aspects, and so far we have no idea who killed the teachers,” he said. The prime minister condemned the attacks on teachers and ordered a probe into the killings.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said the “gruesome incident” took place in an area that has witnessed in the past sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni tribes.
“Most of the teachers who were killed belonged to the Turi Shia tribe,” Hyder said.
The tribal district contains a majority Shia population who are often attacked by armed groups as part of the local Taliban movement.
“This particular attack targeted the teachers while they were in the staffroom … They were there to conduct examinations which are under way throughout the province for lower secondary school,” he said.
The circumstances have remained “mysterious”, as not many people were able to see what had transpired, how many attackers were involved, or what their motives were, Hyder said.
Abid Hussaini, a local police official, told Al Jazeera that authorities have shifted seven bodies from the school to the hospital but they cannot speculate on what was behind the killing.
“We have started our investigation, but we are as yet not sure about reasons for the attack. We will be better placed to talk more about it later,” he said.
‘Cannot be tolerated’
A statement from the provincial chief minister’s office said the incident involved a property dispute, but the regional commissioner said sectarian antagonism appeared to be the cause.
“It is not clear whether the second incident was a reaction to the first one,” the commissioner, Saiful Islam, told Reuters news agency, adding security has been heightened in an area already tense due to sectarian violence.
Following the incident, the local administration announced the postponement of ongoing examinations in local schools until further notice.
Meanwhile, condemnations poured from government officials after the attack.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is currently in India to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit for foreign ministers, expressed his sorrow and demanded the arrest of the perpetrators.
In his message, Bhutto Zardari said that the administration “must immediately investigate the incident, inform the public about the facts”.
“Such incidents cannot be tolerated at any cost. Prevention of such incidents must be ensured in the future,” he added in his statement.
Pakistan President Arif Alvi also condemned the attacks in a message on Twitter, mourning the killing of “on-duty teachers”.
“The attack on teachers by the enemies of knowledge is condemnable,” he said in a tweet in Urdu.
Additional reporting by Abid Hussain in Islamabad.