Last year, on a grim day in December, seven gunmen armed with rifles and affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban stormed into an Army Public School in Peshawar, a northwestern city in Pakistan. They opened fire on staff and children, killing 141, of whom 132 were schoolchildren. Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group killed all seven terrorists and rescued the remaining 960 students and staff.
It was the deadliest terrorist attack to occur on Pakistan’s soil.
On Wednesday, Pakistan revisited the tragedy in what was a final measure to bring justice to the attacks by hanging four militants, who were convicted in connection with the school massacre. The men, identified without last names as Maulvi Abdus Salam, Hazrat Ali, Mujeeb ur Rehman, and Sabeel, were executed at a high security prison in Kohat. According to the military, the men were members of Toheed Tawhid Wal Jihad, an affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban.
Prior to the December 16, 2014 attack, the death penalty was banned in Pakistan. The 2008 moratorium was lifted after the attacks, however, and the country has hanged nearly 300 criminals since. The four men executed Wednesday petitioned for clemency, but Pakistan’s president rejected the requests. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif ordered the hangings a few days ago in a special military court created for terrorism cases.
“Today’s executions cannot return my son to us, but I am happy to know that at least four terrorists have been hanged for their role in the killing of our children,” a woman who identified herself as the wife of Arshad Zafar told The Associated Press.
Many feel Wednesday’s executions were remedial steps in the right direction.
"Dec. 16 is not far away, and that was the day when I lost my son. I shall never be able to forget this pain," Malik Tahir Awan told The Associated Press by phone from Peshawar.
The last time Pakistan saw an attack of this magnitude on its own soil was in 2007 during an attempt on the life of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto two months before she was assassinated. The attack, which involved two bombs exploding near Bhutto’s motorcade, killed at least 180 and injured at least 500 more.
Pakistan has been struggling with radical insurgency for years. The Taliban has long since been a destabilizing threat to Pakistan, which was one of three countries – alongside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – to formally recognize the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s recognition of Taliban formally ended after the September 11th attacks. Pakistan’s Shiite minority has been particularly vulnerable to suicide bombers, many of whom flooded into the country during the Iraq war in 2007.
“Pakistan has been changed after the Peshawar tragedy. The brutal and merciless killings of our children convinced us that the perpetrators of such crimes do not deserve any mercy,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said last month. “The death sentence awarded to the four terrorists, in fact, was the will of the entire nation.”