Islamabad: In an unprecedented attack on foreigners, Taliban militants disguised as paramilitary personnel stormed a mountaineering base camp in northern Pakistan, killing 10 foreign tourists and a Pakistani, embarrassing the PML-N government just weeks after it assumed office and offered peace talks to the insurgents. About 14 to 16 militants targeted the camp at Buner Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan that serves as a base for mountaineers headed for the 8,126-metre Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth highest peak.
The attack was carried out late on Saturday night but authorities were alerted only on Sunday morning. For hours, confusion surrounded the number and nationality of those killed in the attack in Gilgit-Baltistan, a territory disputed between India and Pakistan. Following an autopsy in a state-run hospital in Islamabad, officials announced that the dead included three Ukrainians, two Chinese, two Slovakians, one Lithuanian, one American national of Chinese origin and one Nepalese. A hospital spokesman said all the foreigners were killed by gunshot wounds in the head.
Officials initially said nine foreigners and one Pakistani were killed. They later revised the toll to 11, including two Pakistanis. Late at night, other officials said 10 foreigners and a Pakistan were killed. Earlier on Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in parliament that another Chinese tourist was recovered safely. "The attackers were wearing the uniform of the Gilgit Scouts. They abducted two (Pakistani) guides and demanded they take them to where the foreigners were staying. One guide was killed and the other is alive. He has been detained by police for questioning," Khan said.
The Gilgit Scouts is a paramilitary unit that is part of the Army s Northern Light Infantry regiment. The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out to avenge the death of the group's deputy Chief, Waliur Rehman, in a US drone strike on May 29. Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan called journalists and said the attack was carried out by a new faction named Junood-e-Hafsa.
"This will tell the international community about our feelings and sentiments against the killing of our fighters. We want to convey to the world that this is our reply to US drone attacks," Ihsan said. He said Junood-e-Hafsa was set up to attack foreigners. The Taliban has been engaged in a domestic insurgency since 2007 but it was not known to have a presence in Gilgit-Baltistan, which was once considered secure. The Pakistan government contended the attack was aimed at spoiling relations with friendly countries like China.
"Those who have committed this heinous crime seem to be attempting to disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries," said a statement issued by the Foreign Office. China's Foreign Ministry condemned the attack and said the Chinese embassy in Islamabad has maintained close contact with Pakistani authorities on the issue. The embassy had asked Pakistan to make all-out efforts to take care of survivors, apprehend the killers as soon as possible and take measures to guarantee the safety and rights of Chinese citizens.
After the attack, the Chief Secretary and police chief of Gilgit-Baltistan, earlier known as the Northern Areas, were suspended on the orders of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A special police team headed by DIG Ali Sher was set up to probe the attack. Sher told reporters in Gilgit that the armed men barged into a hotel and killed the tourists. Police and security forces had cordoned off the area and launched a hunt for the killers. Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah said authorities had sought help from the army, which provided a helicopter for aerial surveillance. The remoteness of the area and lack of roads and communication facilities had hampered the response by authorities, he said.
The attackers barged into the camp at 10.30 pm on Saturday night. After tying up 25 Pakistani staff, the attackers killed the foreign tourists. The attackers were in the base camp for almost 90 minutes and left the area at midnight. The paramilitary Frontier Corps was alerted about the incident only at 6 am. Authorities launched efforts to secure other foreign mountaineers and tourists present in the area.