This past week, the world was shocked by two terrorist attacks–in Sydney, Australia and Peshawar, Pakistan, respectively.
In Sydney, a self-styled Muslim cleric, Man Haron Monis, held a group of hostages for 16 hours at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Central Sydney early Monday. Monis took over the cafe at 10 AM, but police and snipers quickly surrounded the shop from all directions. Images showed hostages pressed against the windows and a black flag containing passage from the shahada was held in their hands. Police eventually broke into the cafe early Tuesday after exchanging fires with the gunmen. Several hostages were carried away on stretchers but two hostages, Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, died from bullet wounds.
Shortly after the Sydney hostage situation cooled down, an army public school and degree college in Pakistan’s war-torn city Peshawar was attacked by a group of gunmen from the Pakistan Taliban, leaving 145 people, mostly students and school staff, dead. The siege unfolded at 10 AM on Tuesday, as the terrorists set off a car bomb near the school to distract security forces, and quickly broke into the school by climbing over the walls. According to witnesses’ accounts, Taliban gunmen broke into the room one by one and started firing indiscriminately at students and staff. 15 minutes after gunmen broke into the school, Pakistan security forces arrived at the scene and surrounded the school from all directions. However, Taliban terrorists wearing suicide vests continued to shoot down students, many of whom followed their teachers order and hid under benches. According to General Asim Bajwa, Pakistani Military’s spokesman, many students were gathered in the auditorium for an exam, and that was where most of the casualties were found. Military personnel entered the campus but were only able to secure the campus six hours later at 4 PM on Tuesday. Gunmen were ultimately confined to four buildings, and at 7 PM, Pakistani military announced the death of all seven Taliban militants.
The terrorist attack was called “the biggest human tragedy Pakistan may have ever seen,” by Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistani Taliban’s spokesman emphasized that the attack was a retaliation towards the government’s military drone strike targeting the militants’ strongholds in North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan. The military operation targeting the Pakistani Taliban has killed more than 1,500 militants. The attack marks the first major terrorist operation in Pakistan since the attack on the airport in Karachi on June 9, which 36 people were killed.
Analysts were split on their opinions about whether the attack suggests the rise or downfall of Pakistani Taliban’s influence in the war-torn country. Gareth Price, the senior research fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, told TIME Magazine that the Pakistani Taliban has been seeking opportunities like this to produce the impression that it is still a strong threat to Pakistan’s national security.
“The Taliban in Pakistan are a fringe, if a substantial fringe,” said Price. “This [attack] should be seen as coming from a position of weakness rather than a position of strength.”
However, Michael Kugelman from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars disagrees by suggesting that the Pakistani Taliban may be warning the world that more well-organized attacks like this will soon shake Pakistan once again. He foresees a new cycle of violence between the militants and Pakistani military to reemerge again. The possibility of pushing more people toward radical ideologies promoted by terrorist groups is also growing.
“To me, this attack seems very well-coordinated and would have required a lot of advancing planning,” said Kugelman. “What’s scary about this is that it looks like the Taliban is ready to return to the fight. Today really marks a new phase in the Pakistan Taliban’s incredibly violent insurgency against the Pakistani state.”