On December 16, 2014 at least 140 people, including 134 children, were martyred when militants stormed the school—making it one of the most traumatising attacks in the country’s history.
Hussain, who hails from the KP’s Hazara division, had joined the school as an English language teacher just four months back. He recalls being elated when he found out that his daughter was being enroled. The principal of the junior section asked him to bring her on December 16 to take her picture for the school ID card.
In the morning, the father and the daughter left for the school together. “We had the picture taken and were waiting for the print when we heard gunshots,” remembers Hussain. “Everyone was put on alert and Madam Sadia Khattak told me to leave Khaula with her, saying that she will take care of her after God,” he said.
Hussain ran down the stairs and went towards the entrance, where he saw three attackers entering carrying weapons. He ran back to the first floor, desperate to do something to stop attackers.
The attackers came up quickly as there were no students on the ground floor and saw Hussain standing in the veranda. Hussain tried to hide behind one of the pillars as they opened fire on him.
“All the teachers and students had taken shelter inside the classrooms and I was left alone in the veranda.” He thought the attackers might spare him, if they knew that he was a religious person. “I showed my beard to them, but they didn’t listen to me and kept firing.”
The firing continued for almost a minute and the pillar provided him with the perfect cover. However, he ran out of luck and was hit by three bullets. Still, he didn’t give up.
He managed to get inside a classroom and locked the door. He even pushed a cupboard to block the door and laid down on the floor. The militants tried to barge in but Hussain’s efforts to block the entrance paid off.
“They opened the door by a few inches and pushed their weapons through it, and fired few shots.” After almost 7 to 8 minutes of continuous firing, it stopped. And that’s when he decided came out of the room. “I couldn’t hold myself and fell on the floor.”
Despite being in excruciating pain, all Hussain could think about was his daughter. “Khaula! Where are you?” he shouted with all his might. “But she never answered.”
After 40 minutes, the army teams reached the ground floor. He could hear them entering, but couldn’t shout anymore because of the pain.
“I said there is no one on the ground floor, come upstairs and save the injured children,” he said in a mellow tone. The soldiers heard him and they came on the first floor.
“I remember all the guns being pointed at me,” said Hussain. “I heard someone shout, ‘Check first, then fire’.”
The army personnel brought an injured student who identified me. “He is Sir Altaf, our English teacher,” he recalled the kid saying. “After that, they rescued me.” Hussain was rushed to the Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar, where bullets were removed from his chest. He was hospitalised for two-and-a-half-months.
Both Khaula Bibi and Madam Sadia Khattak were martyred, but Hussain didn’t know.
“When I was lying on the floor during the attack, I had a feeling that Khaula will be martyred,” he said. Two days later, when I came to my senses my wife said, “Khaula was dearer to Allah and he has taken her back. Tears started running from my eyes, but my wife and both my sons held me,” said Hussain.
‘My Khaula’s blood is in the school’
Four months after the attack, Hussain recovered completely and rejoined the school. “My Khaula’s blood is in the school, so I decided to play my part in rebuilding it.”
Hussain says that the students who saw survived in the attack are a source of motivation for everyone. “Today, the school has more students than it had before the attack,” he said. “It is our success and their defeat.”
Khaula’s death affected the entire family. Her mother, Safoora Bibi, suffers from heart problems now and her elder brother Muhammad Samar was in trauma for more than a year.
“Samar was with Khaula, but he somehow survived,” said Hussain. However, it took a toll on him and he stopped talking altogether. His grades started to fall too.
“I had to hire four tutors to help him, and he got good marks in class nine exams,” Hussain said.
Terrorists have no religion, Hussain said, insisting that the militants were brainwashed.
As the fourth anniversary of APS attack approaches, Peshawar Cantonment Board has put banners honouring the kids martyred in the APS attack.
Hussain stops at one of the banners hanging from an electricity pole. It has Khaula’s picture on it.
He says, “This picture hurts me, but at the same time it gives me strength and motivation to keep doing my job.”