7 aid workers, teachers slain in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD — Gunmen on motorcycles sprayed a van carrying employees from a community center with bullets on Tuesday, killing five female teachers and two aid workers but sparing a child they took out of the vehicle before opening fire.
The director of the group that the seven worked for said he believes the attack might have been the latest in a series targeting anti-polio efforts in Pakistan. Some militants oppose the vaccination campaigns, accusing health workers of acting as spies for the United States and alleging the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.
Last month, nine people working on an anti-polio vaccination campaign were shot and killed. Four of those shootings were in the northwest, where the attack took place.
The attack was a reminder of the risks for female educators and aid workers from Islamic militants who oppose their work. The attack occurred in the same conservative province where militants shot and seriously wounded 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, an outspoken young activist for girls' education, last year.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest shootings.
The teachers and health workers — one man and one woman — were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on their way home from a community center in the town of Swabi, where they were employed at a medical clinic and primary school. Their driver was injured.
Javed Akhtar, the director of Support With Working Solution, said the clinic vaccinated children against polio, and many of the NGO's staff had taken part in immunization campaigns.
Militants in the province have blown up schools and killed female educators.
They also have kidnapped and killed aid workers, viewing them as promoting a foreign, liberal agenda.
The injured driver in Swabi told investigators that the gunmen stopped the vehicle and removed a boy — the son of one of the women — before indiscriminately opening fire, according to police Officer Fazal Malik. The woman's husband rushed to the scene upon receiving a phone call alerting him to the shooting.
“I left everything and rushed towards the spot. As I reached there, I saw their dead bodies were inside the vehicle, and he (his son) was sitting with someone,” said Zain ul Hadi.
Swabi police Chief Abdur Rasheed said most of the women killed were between 20 and 22 years old. He said four gunmen on two motorcycles fled the scene and have not been apprehended.
The NGO conducts education and health programs and runs the community center in Swabi, Akhtar said. The group has been active in the city since 1992, and started the Ujala Community Welfare Center in 2010, he added. Ujala means “light” in Urdu.
The center is financed by the Pakistani government's Poverty Alleviation Program and a German organization, Akhtar said.
He said the NGO also runs health and education projects in the South Waziristan tribal area, as well as health projects in the cities of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan and the regions of Lower Dir and Upper Kurram. All of those cities and regions are in northwest Pakistan, the area that has been most affected by the ongoing fight with militants opposed to the government.