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Six Sentenced to Death for Massacre of 132 Schoolchildren in Pakistan

Eight months after a horrific Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar shocked the world, six militants have been sentenced to death for their involvement, with another given a life sentence.
August 14, 2015, 12:25pm
Photo via Army Public School and College/Facebook

Pakistani military courts have sentenced six Islamic militants to death over their link to a horrific massacre at a school in Peshawar in December that resulted in the deaths of more than 150 people — mostly schoolchildren.

Another militant involved in the attack was sentenced to life in prison, according to an army statement.

"The convicts were given fair trial by following all the legal formalities and offering/providing them legal aid and defense counsels," the statement read. Army chief General Raheel Sharif confirmed the sentences, though it was unclear when they would be carried out.

Pakistan's military says the men belonged to the Tawhid-wal-Jihad group and played a major role in planning and facilitating the school attack and several others, though this massacre was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), a homegrown militant group.

A picture of Khola Altaf taken on the morning of December 16, before her first day of school. She was killed later that day. Photo via her family

The Peshawar massacre in December was the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan's history. It shocked the country and led the government to lift a moratorium on executions in place since 2008. Pakistan's parliament then amended the constitution to allow military courts to try civilians in terrorism cases. The Supreme Court upheld the use of such trials earlier this month.

Some 200 prisoners have since been put to death in Pakistan, many of whom were not convicted of terror offenses.

In December, VICE News visited Peshawar to speak to some of the survivors of the attack, as well as families of those who had been killed.

Seven gunmen entered the Public Army School while lessons were in progress. Despite alleged orders not to kill the "minor children," it would appear that for the most part the assailants shot, lobbed grenades, and set off explosives indiscriminately.

Sixth-class student Abdual Moaiz told VICE News that he heard the first blast during fourth period. His teacher told the students to hide under the tables, where they remained for at least an hour, until an army officer came into the class. "He was crying and crying and told us now we are all safe and he rescued us," Abdual said.

As he left, Abdual said he saw many dead bodies on the ground. On the way out he spotted a young girl, a kindergarten student, who was running directly towards a gunman, apparently asking him for help. The shooter opened fire on her.

Watch the VICE News documentary, Life After the Massacre: Terror in Peshawar:

When journalists were allowed to enter the school building, some of the most shocking imagery came from the auditorium, where the floor was crimson with blood, and broken spectacles, books, and discarded shoes were littered across the floor.

Ninth-class student Afaq Ahmed was inside the auditorium, sitting next to the only open door, when he heard blasts. Speaking to VICE News, he reeled off a list of six of his friends who were killed. He vowed the attack would only harden the survivors' resolve to stand against the Taliban.

"Me and my other friends are waiting to reopen the school," Afaq said. "We are not afraid of it and we are ready to fight against terrorism."

Samar Altaf, 11, told VICE News that he heard the firing while in his English lesson. "The teacher asked the class to hide themselves under the desk and don't talk. We shut our mouths strongly and our teacher started praying."

Related: 'We Saw Our Sister's Body. It Was Her First Day in School': Survivors Tell of Horrors of Peshawar Massacre

Samar said that they fled through the school, passing dozens of dead bodies. "Suddenly we saw our sister Khola's dead body. We recognized her by her dress because that day she had not worn school uniform because it was her first day in school." Samar said that they rushed towards Khola's body, but a rescue worker stopped them and took them to hospital.

Teacher Beanish Umar held a master's degree in computer science and English. "We lived a happy life. Despite her service activities she always gave me time," her husband Umar Zeb Butt told VICE News. "She cared about me, pressed my clothes, and took care of me and her daughters."

Shortly before the attack Beanish visited the doctor, complaining of a cough. The doctor advised her to rest for a few days, but Beanish said that exams were coming up. She felt it was the wrong time for her to desert her students.

Butt heard about the attack while at his office. He hurried straight to the school, but was redirected towards the hospital. "That evening I found my wife's dead body."

Butt said that they had discussed terrorism together. "She always told me that she was not afraid of any Taliban. 'What can they do?' [she'd say]. Except kill innocent people."

After the news of the attack broke, the TTP quickly claimed responsibility.

"We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females," said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani. "We want them to feel the pain."

Seven "facilitator" suspects were arrested shortly afterwards — six men and one woman.

Many people in Peshawar who spoke to VICE News mentioned relatives or friends who had "lost their senses" in the days after the massacre, rendered completely incapable of speaking or functioning.

Peshawar Public Army School's Facebook page posted scores of pictures and tributes to its murdered students. The school's website carried the masthead "Gone but never forgotten," over a link to a document with advice on helping children after a terrorist attack. This document details the symptoms of trauma and the ways parents can support their children, and instructs parents to answer their children's questions "honestly, in an age-appropriate manner but without making any false promises."

Ominously, in a country mired in an increasingly bloody conflict with the Taliban, it also warned that the children's future was still uncertain. Their parents, it says, should "support (them) by helping prepare for future similar events."

_Mohammad Zubair Khan and the __Associated Press __contributed to this report. _

_Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: _@sallyhayd