Seven Charity Workers Shot Dead in Pakistanإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Six women and a man working for a Pakistani health and education charity involved in vaccinations were shot dead on their way home from a community center on Tuesday, officials said.
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 took place about 65 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of the capital in the Swabi district. The victims were all Pakistanis and worked at a local center called Ujalla, which runs a school and a health clinic.
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 the village community center when they were attacked, said Abdul Rashid Khan, Swabi police chief.
"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," Khan told AFP.
"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. Police said it was investigating whether there was a link to Islamist militancy but the head of the charity said the organization had not been threatened despite working on polio immunizations.
The Taliban banned polio vaccinations in the tribal region of Waziristan, condemning the campaign as a cover for espionage after the jailing of a doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden using a hepatitis vaccination program.
Last month nine polio vaccination workers were shot dead in a string of attacks in Karachi and the northwest.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the killings, but the deaths prompted the U.N. children's agency and the World Health Organization to suspend work on polio campaigns.
Javed Akhtar, executive director of the charity, said the organization provides vaccines, including during last month's campaign, but said he did not know if its polio work was a motive for the attack.
"The center is involved in a child immunization program. It also provides polio drops," he said, adding that his organization had received Western funds, including from the German government, through a Pakistani poverty alleviation fund.
Other charity workers in the northwest 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 organization 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 (PCSN), demanded that the killers be arrested, and called for protection and compensation.
"PCSN will formulate a joint strategy to tackle the matter," he said in a statement.
Last month a Swedish woman charity worker died after being shot in the chest in Lahore where she worked for the U.S.-founded Full Gospel Assemblies, which runs charities including a technical training institute and adult literacy center.
In August 2011 U.S. development worker Warren Weinstein was kidnapped after gunmen tricked their way into his Lahore home. Pakistani officials believe he is being held by al-Qaida and Taliban extremists in Pakistan's lawless northwest.
In April 2012, a British Muslim Red Cross worker was beheaded after being kidnapped in the southwestern city of Quetta.
Pakistan has been battling a homegrown Taliban insurgency for five years, as well as a separatist Baluch uprising in the southwest. It also suffers from routine attacks blamed on a series of hardline Islamist factions.
Islamabad says more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.