At least 126 people, including 84 children have been killed in a Taliban attack on a school in Pakistan and around 122 injured, according to reports.
Officials say at least six armed men stormed the military run school in the city of Peshawar, holding around 500 students and teachers hostage.
Eye witnesses at the site reported the sound of heavy gunfire in the bloodiest insurgent attack in the country for years.
Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver, told reporters, “We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers.”
One student who was rescued from the school told a private television channel, “We were in the examination hall when all of sudden firing started and our teachers told us to silently lay on the floor. We remained on the floor for an hour. There was a lot of gunfire.”
“When the gunfire died down our soldiers came and guided us out.”
Reuters news agency say three explosions have been heard from inside the school compound. Four of the six attackers have been reported killed.
The Army said that troops had surrounded the building and an operation was under way to rescue the remaining children and teachers.
The Chief Minister of Khyver Pakhtunkhwa, the province of which Peshawar is the capital, confirmed the death of 84 children in an interview with local television channels.
“In CMH (Combined Military Hospital) there are around 60 and there are 24 dead in Lady Reading (hospital),” he said.
The Pakistani Prime Minister has called school massacre “A national tragedy” and said he was on his way to Peshawar.
“I can’t stay back in Islamabad [Pakistan’s capital]. This is a national tragedy unleashed by savages. These were my kids,” he said in a statement.
“This is my loss. This is the nation’s loss. I am leaving for Peshawar now and I will supervise this operation myself.”
This is not the first attack by the Islamist militants in the City. In September 2013 the Taliban attacked a church in Peshawar, killing many worshippers, including children.
There is a long running battle with the Pakistani Taliban who want to topple the government and set up a strict Islamic state as they did in Afghanistan before the invasion of ISAF forces.
And they have vowed to step up attacks in response to a major army operation against their groups in the tribal areas of the country.
While they have targeted military sites including bases, airports and checkpoints, civilian targets are relatively rare. These tend to be targeted when there is a heightened military state of alert or missions are taking place.
The school was chosen as a target because “we want them to feel the pain” said a Taliban spokesman.
“We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females,” said Muhammad Umar Khorasani.
The Pakistani army released a statement saying that many hostages had been evacuated but did not specify how many.
“Rescue operation by troops underway. Exchange of fire continues. Bulk of student(s) and staff evacuated. Reports of some children and teachers killed by terrorist” it said.
Originally the Taliban said the attackers, including a number of suicide bombers, had been instructed not to target children and shoot only adults.