Seven charity workers shot dead in Pakistan

January 02, 2013 - 4:54:04 am

PESHAWAR: Six women and a man working for a health education charity in northwest Pakistan were shot dead on their way home from a community centre yesterday, officials said. In the southern port city of Karachi, a motorcycle bomb exploded near the venue of a major political rally, killing four people and injuring 42 others.

Police said they were investigating whether there was any link to the Taliban or other Islamist militants, who have been blamed for past attacks on charity workers and on health education projects in particular.

The attack on the charity workers took place about 65 kilometres from the capital in the Swabi district. The victims were all Pakistanis and worked for local charity Ujalla, which runs health education classes and employed health visitors.

Five of the women were teachers, the sixth was a health worker and the man worked as a health technician, officials said.

They were being driven home from a village community centre when they were attacked. 

“Four men came on two motorbikes. They attacked their van, a Toyota Hiace. They opened fire to the right and left of the van and fled,” said Abdul Rashid Khan, Swabi police chief.

“Six women and a man have died. The driver is injured,” he added.

Police said the women were aged 20 to 35 and the male health technician was 52.

Doctor Mohammad Sheerin at the local Bacha Khan medical complex said one man had been critically wounded and evacuated to the northwestern city of Peshawar. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, near a junction for the motorway which connects the northwestern city of Peshawar to the eastern city of Lahore. Police said the motive was under investigation.

“A wave of terrorism is continuing in (the northwestern province of) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, so we are investigating whether it’s a part of the same wave or there were any other motives,” said Khan.

Charity workers condemned the attack and called for protection.

“Schools and NGOs have been threatened in the recent past. Several government schools had been bombed in the last several months,” said Rooh ul-Amin, who heads an umbrella organisation of charities in Swabi.

He said eight months ago the guest house where he receives visitors was bombed and another bomb was found near his office four months ago. Idrees Kamal, the coordinator of Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network, demanded that the killers by arrested, and called for protection and compensation.

“PCSN demands that the provincial government arrests the killers of the welfare workers and compensation for the deceased. PCSN will formulate a joint strategy to tackle the matter,” he said in a statement. Last month nine polio vaccination workers were shot dead in a string of attacks in Karachi and northwest Pakistan.

Those killings prompted the UN children’s agency and the World Health Organisation to suspend work on polio campaigns in the country. 

The Karachi bombing appeared to be targeted at buses carrying supporters of the city’s dominant political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which organised the rally attended by thousands of people.

“The latest report we have collected from hospitals said that four people have been killed and 42 are injured,” provincial health minister Saghir Ahmad said, updating the earlier toll of two dead and 25 injured.

“The bomb was planted in a motorcycle,” said Asif Ijaz, a senior police official.

Imran Shokat, a police spokesman in the southern Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital, said the motorcycle was parked in a congested neighbourhood near the venue of the rally.

“Bomb disposal experts are investigating but preliminary reports said it was a remote-controlled bomb,” Shokat said.