Sectarian gunmen ambushed a bus on Tuesday, killing 18 Shia Muslims in a usually peaceful region of northern Pakistan that neighbours the former Taliban stronghold of Swat, officials said.
The bus was stopped, before passengers were ordered off and shot in the mountainous district of Kohistan as it travelled from Rawalpindi to the northern city of Gilgit.
“Armed men hiding on both sides of the road attacked the bus,” local police chief Mohammad Ilyas said.
“Eighteen people have died and eight wounded,” he added. The ambush happened near the town of Harban, 130 miles (208 kilometres) north of the capital Islamabad.
Survivors said seven or eight gunmen stopped the bus, forced the passengers to get off and then opened fire, regional administration chief Khalid Omarzai told AFP by telephone, confirming the casualty numbers.
“It appears to be a sectarian attack,” local MP Abdul Sattar Khan said.
“Its a remote area. We are getting reports that the gunmen forced people to get off the bus. They checked their papers and shot them dead,” he told AFP.
The victims were Shia Muslims, he said. “It could be the outcome of the murder of two Sunni Muslims a few days ago in Gilgit. The people of the area had vowed they would take revenge,” Khan added.
Authorities were slow to confirm the motive and insisted militants are not active in the area.
Kohistan borders the Swat valley, where Pakistan in 2009 managed to put down a two-year Taliban insurgency.
Omarzai told AFP that he could not immediately confirm whether it was a sectarian attack, saying that the police were investigating.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had strongly condemned the Kohistan incident.
The two leaders directed the concerned authorities to ensure best medical treatment for the injured.
Gilani said such incidents could not deter the government’s resolve to fight the menace.
While the president said the culprits of such heinous crime would not be spare
List of people killed in Kohistan
Raza Ali, Hussain Ali, Karim Abbas, Anees Hussain, Kalim Abas, Hasmat Changazi, Mohsin Abbas, Muhammad Abas, Mubashir, Idris Ali, Uwais Hussain, Kalim Abas, Faraz Hussain,Farhan Ali, Tahseen Abas, Saklain, Asad Zamin, Ambreen, Fatima
Published in Dawn News
At least 18 people were killed and several others injured when unknown armed men opened fire on a bus in Kohistan area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Tuesday.
According to reports the bus carrying registration number 8371 came under attack near Harban Nala when it was heading towards Rawalpindi from Gilgit with 26 passengers on board.
District Police Officer has confirmed the attack but provided no details. Media reports said more casualties were feared as most of the passengers sustained bullet injuries in the deadly attack. The reports said police could not reach the spot hours after the incident took place.
The dead and injured were shifted to Shitial Hospital. The hospital sources said that passenger with serious wounds were shifted to Chilas Hospital.
Hundreds of people have lost their lives due to sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite sects in Gilgit area.
Militants clad in military uniforms intercepted a convoy of buses and gunned down 18 minority Shia men on Tuesday in a northern Pakistan region that borders the former Taliban stronghold of Swat.Eight others were injured in the attack, for which the banned Jundullah group has claimed responsibility.Two women and three children were among the injured, officials said.
About 10 to 15 gunmen stopped three buses near Harban village in Kohistan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, about 200 km from Islamabad, and shot the Shias after ascertaining their identity.The buses were going from the garrison city of Rawalpindi to Gilgit, which has a sizeable Shia population.
The buses stopped near Harban as the road was blocked with large stones.The gunmen then entered the vehicles and began asking the passengers whether they were Shias or Sunnis.They thoroughly questioned the passengers and even checked their identity cards, officials said.The gunmen forced the Shia men out of the vehicles and made them stand in a line before opening fire, local lawmaker Abdul Sattar Khan and other officials told the media.
Some police officials said the gunmen were wearing army uniforms. Over two dozen other passengers were spared.Police officials said all the dead were Shia men and that the buses were passing through an area dominated by Sunnis.
The injured were taken to a hospital in Chilas town.Most of them were in a serious condition, officials said.Commander Ahmed Marwat of the outlawed Jandullah group claimed responsibility for the attack in phone calls to journalists.He said those executed in the incident were “Shia infidels”.Jundullah has close links with the Pakistani Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a notorious anti-Shia group.
Kohistan district borders the Swat Valley, which had a strong Taliban presence till 2009, when the army launched an operation to flush out the militants.Many of the victims were Shias returning from a pilgrimage to shrines in Iran.
Lawmaker Abdul Sattar Khan linked the attack to the recent murder of two Sunnis in Gilgit.The attack sparked tension and protests in parts of Gilgit-Baltistan and authorities issued orders banning large assemblies.Additional security forces were rushed to Gilgit, where the main market was closed as a protest.
Authorities also closed all government offices and schools in the region for three days.President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack.
Zardari said the “culprits of such a heinous crime would not be spared” while the premier said such acts of terrorism could not deter the government’s resolve to fight the menace.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik constituted a team comprising officials of the police, ISI and Intelligence Bureau to probe the incident and to submit a report within three days.
He said those involved in the crime would be arrested and taken to task.