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Taliban kill four Pakistani schoolchildren: official

world Updated: Sep 08, 2009 14:22 IST

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Taliban militants on Tuesday shot dead four schoolchildren and wounded six others in an apparent sectarian attack in a remote tribal town in northwest Pakistan, officials and residents said.

The students were going to school in Atmankhel town of Orakzai district when the militants opened fire, killing four boys and wounding six others, local administration official Asmatullah Khan told AFP.

"It appears to be a sectarian attack as the slain students belonged to the minority Shiite sect of Islam," he said. "The attackers were Taliban."

Residents said the dead students were all younger than 16, but were not able to give the exact ages of the victims. "I heard gunfire and came out of my home," local resident Samiullah Khan told AFP by telephone. "I saw people armed with Kalashnikov rifles fleeing in two jeeps, while several students were bleeding."

Orakzai borders Khyber district, where the military launched a fresh offensive against Islamist extremists about a week ago, sending thousands of residents fleeing and killing more than 130 rebels, according to army figures.

Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwest tribal belt has become a stronghold for hundreds of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Taliban fighters frequently attack and burn schools in the northwest, while tensions are also rife in the area between the majority Sunnis and the Shiites.

Pakistan in late April launched an offensive against Taliban in the northwest, targeting rebels in Swat valley and the nearby districts of Buner and Lower Dir after the insurgents advanced close to the capital Islamabad.

The military in July claimed to have cleared the area of the Taliban threat, and has now turned its attention to the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.