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Peshawar school attack aimed at killing soldiers' children -

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DAVID MARK: Pakistan is a nation used to horrific violence, but the senseless murder of 132 children and nine of their teachers in a Peshawar school overnight is still incomprehensibly brutal.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting by at least nine gunmen, saying its aim was to kill the children of soldiers when it attacked the army school.

The militants say it was in retaliation for an army operation against them in Pakistan's tribal areas in the north-west of the country.

The Pakistani military has already hit back, vowing retribution for the attack, which the US president Barack Obama has condemned as 'depraved' and 'barbaric'.

Michael Edwards reports.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Taliban assault was designed to strike deep into the heart of Pakistan's military establishment.

Disguised in military uniforms, the nine attackers managed to slip past the army public school's tight security, where they had easy access to more than 1000 students, most of them the children of army personnel.

Those rescued have told the media that the gunmen, suicide vests strapped to their bodies, entered the compound and opened fire indiscriminately on boys, girls and their teachers.

It took eight hours for security forces to regain control. All the gunmen were killed but they had achieved their goal. They murdered more than 130 students and at least nine teachers.

Most were between 12 to 16 years old.

Police struggled to hold back distraught parents who were trying to break past a security cordon and get into the school.

Mohammed Hussain had two sons there.

MOHAMMED HUSSAIN (translated): My two sons were studying at the army public school. The one in grade three has come out safely, but there is no news of the one who was in grade nine. I have just received a phone call saying he is lying in the CMH (Combined Military Hospital). I am going to check now to see whether this is true or not.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: It could have been far worse; the military says about 960 pupils and staff were evacuated. Dozens of wounded children were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment. Their stories are harrowing.

One told of having to pretend to be dead to escape being shot and others described a teacher being burnt alive right in front of them.

Relatives are now scrambling, often in vain, for news about what's happened.

PAKISTANI MAN (translated): My two nephews were studying here. Syed Abdullah Shah in grade 10. He had a paper today. The other is called Tipu. His real name is Sibtain, but we call him Tipu. The older one who was in grade 10 was killed.

His funeral will be held later today. There is no information about the younger one so far. We have tried all hospitals, but in vain. We heard that some children had been rescued from here, so we are waiting for that. May Allah help us.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Pakistani peace campaigner, Malala Yousafzai - herself a victim of Taliban violence - says the attack was cowardly and despicable.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: My family and I are heartbroken after hearing the news that more than 100 innocent children and teachers have lost their lives in this recent attack on a school in Peshawar and we stand with all those families and all those children who are injured right now and who are suffering through this big trauma.

And now it is the time that we unite and I call upon the international community, leaders in Pakistan, all political parties and everyone that we should stand up together and fight against terrorism and we should make sure that every child gets safe and quality education.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Even the Afghan Taliban has condemned the attack, describing it as un-Islamic.

The United Nations Head Ban Ki-moon has called the attack heinous. President Obama says it was barbaric and depraved.

The secretary of state John Kerry has pledged his country's full support to bring those responsible to justice.

JOHN KERRY: The perpetrators must be brought to justice, and we pledge our full support to the people of Pakistan in this difficult hour, we will help them in any way we possibly can.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Taliban says the killings were in response to the Pakistani army's campaign against the militants in north Waziristan, a region in the country's tribal belt.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb began in June and the military claims it has killed more than 1,500 extremists.

The military has already hit back, bombing several known Taliban strongholds.

Muhammed Amir Rana is a Pakistani security analyst.

MUHAMMED AMIR RANA: It was likely that they will come up with the reaction, but nobody was expecting that they will target the innocent children, they will target the school. Usually their targets are the military installation, or the government installations, or the government interests, so this is quite strange, this is quite brutal.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Pakistan's prime minister Nawaz Sharif says the violence won't stop his resolve to fight the extremists.

Ali Sarwar Naqvi is a former ambassador to the United States who is now a security and political analyst.

ALI SARWAR NAQVI: This attack did cause such massive outrage in the whole of the country. Any apologists or sympathisers of the Taliban will be silenced.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: And does the Pakistani military have the capability to root out the Taliban or the Pakistani Taliban if it wishes to do so?

ALI SARWAR NAQVI: This has to be countered in a massive manner. I think the army is doing a good job but this problem will not disappear tomorrow.

It will take a lot of doing.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: While it's the most brutal, it's far from the first time the Taliban has targeted schools. Eight hundred attacks on educational facilities have been recorded in Pakistan in recent decades.

The country has called a three-day period of mourning for those killed.

DAVID MARK: Michael Edwards.