Pakistani Militants Gun Down 7 Aid Workers

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Continuing a militant campaign of violence against aid workers in Pakistan, gunmen on Tuesday shot dead seven Pakistani teachers and health workers, six of them women, police officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the shooting, in the Swabi district of the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, fit a pattern of militant attacks against charity and aid workers across the country in recent weeks that officials have attributed to the Pakistani Taliban. The militant offensive has brought a wave international outrage, particularly because it has focused on vaccination and health workers in a country where polio and measles have made troubling gains.

The attack on Tuesday, near the village of Sher Afzal Banda, was conducted by two men on a motorcycle who followed a van bringing the workers home and then opened fire on it with assault rifles, the police said. The dead worked for the private Pakistani aid group Support With Working Solution, which works in the health and education sectors.

"They opened fire and killed six females and one male," said Javed Akhtar, the executive director of the aid group, in a telephone interview. "One child, aged 7 to 8 years, miraculously survived." His group started out in 1991 and in conjunction with other aid groups has focused on Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province and on South Waziristan in the tribal region, both deeply affected by both poverty and militancy.

Five of the dead were young women who worked as teachers at a primary-level school the charity ran in the area, Mr. Akhtar said. The other two were health workers.

Mr. Akhtar said that no prior warning or threat had been given to his organization by militants. But he and a wide range of Pakistani officials believed that the attack was part of the broader Pakistani Taliban campaign against aid workers.

Last month, at least nine Pakistani volunteers in an internationally supported polio vaccination drive were killed by militants across the country. Senior militant leaders have long accused vaccination drives of being a cover for government and international espionage and regularly threatened workers and officials involved in the effort, though never before to such deadly effect.

The campaign of intimidation and violence has been devastating for health campaigns that rely on a backbone of low-paid volunteers who go door-to-door with vaccines in some of the most remote and dangerous parts of Pakistan.

Pakistan is one of just three countries left in the world in which polio remains endemic, and the country has also struggled with a resurgence of measles.

Saghir Ahmed, the  health minister for Sindh Province fired five health department officials after six children were reported to have died of measles on Monday alone in upper parts of the province. At least 100 children died in December in the outbreak, Pakistani health officials say, and the World Health Organization said that more than 300 children died of the disease in Pakistan throughout 2012.

In the city of Karachi, at least four people were killed and more than 40 wounded on Tuesday in a bombing that appeared politically motivated, the police said.

The bomb, planted on a motorcycle in a crowded neighborhood and detonated by remote control, ripped through several buses returning from a mammoth political rally for the political party MQM, the most dominant in Karachi, the police said.

The rally was in support Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, a crusading religious figure whose return to Pakistan after years of residence in Canada has thrown Pakistani politics into a tailspin. Mr. Qadri, who is a harsh critic of President Asif Ali Zardari and his governing Pakistan Peoples Party, held a huge rally in Lahore last month to criticize the government. He is threatening to hold an even larger one, which he likened to the Tahrir Square revolutionary demonstrations in Egypt, Islamabad, on Jan. 14 if his demands for reform are not met.

Leaders of both the Pakistan Peoples Party and opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have accused Mr. Qadri of attempting to delay the general elections, which are expected to be held in April or May.

Karachi is regularly torn by savage factional violence. Pakistani officials estimate that at least 400 people were killed there in targeted political violence in 2012, and they say that the true number is likely much higher.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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