NYT: Gunmen Kill Climbers in Northern Pakistan

UPDATE 4 p.m.:

 

From the Associated Press: At least a dozen Islamic militants wearing police uniforms shot to death overnight a Pakistani and 10 foreign tourists who were visiting one of the world’s highest mountains in a remote area of northern Pakistan that has been largely peaceful, officials said Sunday.

The shooting was one of the worst attacks on foreigners in Pakistan in recent years and is likely to damage the country’s already struggling tourism industry. Pakistan’s mountainous north – considered until now relatively safe – is one of the main attractions in a country beset with insurgency and other political instability.

The local branch of the Taliban took responsibility for the killings, saying it was to avenge the death of a leader killed in a recent U.S. drone strike.

The 10 foreigners who were killed included two Chinese, one Chinese-American and one Nepalese, said Attaur Rehman, home secretary in the Gilgit-Baltistan area where the attack took place. The other six have not been identified. One Pakistani was also killed, Rehman said.

Matt Boland, the acting spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, confirmed that a U.S. citizen was among the dead, but could not say whether it was a dual Chinese national.

“The U.S. Embassy Islamabad expresses its deepest condolences to the family and friends of the U.S. citizen and the other innocent tourists who were killed in the Northern Areas of Pakistan,” Boland said in a statement sent to reporters.

A short video report from the BBC.

 

According to the New York Times and other media reports:

By SALMAN MASOOD

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — In one of the most brazen attacks on foreigners in the country in recent years, unidentified gunmen killed nine foreign nationals and one Pakistani in northern Pakistan on Sunday, according to the country’s interior minister.

The dead included five Ukrainians and three Chinese, officials said. Their Pakistani guide was also killed in the attack. The nationality of the ninth tourist was unclear. [One Chinese tourist was wounded in the attack and was rescued, according to the Associated Press: insert by TMAC]

The attack occurred in far-flung Gilgit-Baltistan, a beautiful, mountainous part of northern Pakistan where attacks on foreigners have been rare in recent years, although there has been sporadic sectarian violence.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which he said was in retaliation for American drone strikes in the tribal belt.

Image of Nanga Parbat’s Diamir side, via ExplorersWeb

The foreigners were part of a mountaineering expedition that planned to climb Nanga Parbat which, at 26,660 feet, is the world’s ninth highest mountain and Pakistan’s second highest peak. [The attack took place at one the base camps on the mountain, according to the Associated Press. According to reports on ExplorersWeb, the attack took place in the base camp for the Diamer face.: inserts by TMAC]

Unidentified gunmen wearing police uniforms stormed into their camp around 1 a.m. Sunday morning, opening fire indiscriminately, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told Parliament on Sunday morning.

[According to the Associated Press: The attackers beat up the Pakistanis who were accompanying the tourists, took their money and tied them up, said a senior local government official. They checked the identities of the Pakistanis and shot to death one of them, possibly because he was a minority Shiite Muslim, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Although Gilgit-Baltistan is a relatively peaceful area, it has experienced attacks by radical Sunni Muslims on Shiites in recent years. Insert by TMAC]

The gunmen escaped after the attack.

The Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said they belonged to a Taliban affiliate named Jundul Hafsa, and that the attack was a response to an American drone attack that killed the Taliban deputy leader, Wali ur-Rehman, on May 29.

Mr. Ehsan added that the Taliban sought to ‘’awaken’’ international opinion about the drone campaign, although it was unclear how attacks on Chinese and Ukrainian nationals was a response to an American action — except, perhaps, to increase pressure on the newly installed government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

In any event, the incident is likely to badly damage what remains of the country’s tourism sector. Until now, mountaineers were considered one of the few groups that remained impervious to the perceived perils of visiting Pakistan.

Drawn by the challenge of climbing some of the world’s most spectacular yet forbidding peaks, their greatest danger stemmed from the mountains themselves. The Pakistan Army has assisted in several daring high-altitude rescues of climbing expeditions that had gotten into trouble.

But Sunday’s unprecedented attack introduced a new element of risk that is likely to affect such expeditions, at least in the short term.

Mr. Khan, the interior minister, said the government had suspended the police chief and the chief secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan. He portrayed the attack as an attempt to disrupt Pakistan’s relations with other countries.

‘’It is not just an attack on tourists,’’ Mr. Khan said. ‘’It is an attack on Pakistan.’’

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the attack as ‘’a heinous crime’’ that appeared to be ‘’attempting to disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries.’’

A foreign ministry spokesman said that senior officials had called the ambassadors of China and Ukraine to express condolences on behalf of the government.

Mr. Sharif, the prime minister, condemned the attack and said his administration would make every effort to ensure Pakistan is safe for tourists.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Johannesburg, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad.

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