ISLAMABAD – Pakistani security forces rescued dozens of students, teachers and staff from a boys school who had been briefly taken captive by militants in the northwest, the army said today.
In brief comments today, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said 80 people, 71 of them students, were found by forces manning a checkpoint in the Goryam area as their small convoy of vehicles, escorted by militants, headed toward the South Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.
The region is a major al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold from which militants are thought to launch attacks inside Afghanistan as well.
“Everyone is safe and sound,” Abbas said. “An exchange of fire took place, but the miscreants-terrorists fled the scene when they saw the strength of the armed forces.”
A top area government official, Sardar Mohammed Abbas, said all the kidnap victims were rescued, though he gave the number as 76.
Details about the kidnapping have been murky, and originally as many as 500 people were reported abducted. Overnight, at least 200 students were traced to their homes, officials said.
Police official Meer Sardar said the abduction occurred about 20 miles from Razmak Cadet College. The victims were leaving the school after they were warned to get out in a phone call from a man they believed to be a political official, Sardar said, citing accounts from a group of 17 who managed to escape.
Local media, however, reported that the group was leaving because their school vacation had started.
About 30 buses, cars and other vehicles were carrying the students, staff and others when they were stopped by a large group of gunmen in their own vehicles, according to a school employee who was among those who escaped.
The employee requested anonymity out of fear of Taliban reprisal. He said the assailants carried rockets, Kalashnikovs, hand grenades and other weapons and that 400 captives were initially involved.
Cadet colleges in Pakistan are usually run by retired military officers and educate teenagers. They also typically provide housing.
North and South Waziristan are major al-Qaida and Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan. The regions lie roughly 150 miles from the Swat Valley.
Clashes in the past three days in South Waziristan have killed at least 25 militants and nine soldiers, fueling speculation that a month after re-igniting its battle against Taliban militants in Swat, the military will widen the offensive to the tribal area.
The army spokesman, however, said troops on the ground were merely reacting to attacks, not opening a new front, and that the militants were trying to divert the army’s attention from the fight in Swat.