Foreign Office says attack an attempt to derail Pakistan’s ties with China, others.
Taliban-affiliated gunmen have killed 10 people, including nine foreign mountaineers, overnight in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region.
The attack on the Fairy Meadows base camp of a party hoping to climb Nanga Parbat, one of the world’s highest peaks, has been claimed by the Jandullah group, which claims to be associated with the Taliban. “The tourists were infidels and the enemies of Muslims,” said Ahmed Marwat, the terrorist group’s spokesman.
But Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan denied the involvement of Jandullah, which, he says, is not linked to his organization. “We claim the responsibility for last night’s attack in Chilas,” Ihsan told Newsweek on phone. “The mujahideen from our group Junood al-Hafsa carried out this operation. It was to avenge the martyrdom of Commander Wali-ur-Rehman. The foreign tourists were targeted so that we could get our protests [against drone strikes] heard at the international level.”
The dead include five Ukrainians, a Pakistani, and Chinese and Russian nationals.
“There were nine foreigners and one Pakistani. The incident took place around 10 p.m. [on Saturday]. They were mountaineers and based in a camp,” said Diamer district police official Mohammed Naveed. “Gunmen came and opened fire on them. It is confirmed that they have [all] been killed.” However, the deputy inspector-general of Gilgit police, Ali Sher, said the attack happened between midnight and 1 a.m.
The remote and normally peaceful Himalayan region has long attracted mountaineers from around the world. Gilgit-Baltistan has often been the site of sectarian tensions between the area’s Shia population and Sunni extremists. Attacks on foreign tourists have been rare.
Syed Mehdi Shah, chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice: “We will not spare the culprits.” Shah said his administration has sought help from the Army. “The area is far flung and deep in the mountains. There is no connection by road and it is accessible only by mules, horses or on foot,” he said. “We have sent helicopters to the area. Police and paramilitary have surrounded the area.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack. “Such acts of cruelty and inhumanity would not be tolerated and every effort would be made to make Pakistan a safe place for tourists,” said a statement from his office. Sharif extended his sympathies to the families of those killed, saying that “the people and government of Pakistan stand by you in this hour of huge distress.”
The Foreign Office added: “Those who have committed this heinous crime seem to be attempting to disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries.”
In the past Sharif has advocated peace talks with the Taliban and he publicly criticized a drone strike that killed Taliban deputy Wali-ur-Rehman in late May, echoing long-held Pakistani complaints that the U.S. campaign violates national sovereignty.