In an assault bearing the hallmarks of a Taliban strike, gunmen shot dead six women and a man working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the Swabi district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Tuesday.
A high-roof van, carrying staff of the Support With Working Solution (SWWS), was travelling to Swabi from Sher Afzal Bhanda village when two gunmen riding a motorcycle intercepted it in the Sheikh Dheri area, 500 metres from the Jehangira-Swabi Road, Abdur Rasheed Khan, the district police officer (DPO), told The Express Tribune.
“When the van pulled up, the gunmen opened fire on the people inside, killing six women and a man and injuring the driver,” DPO Khan said. “They, however, spared a five-year-old child of one of the female workers travelling with her,” he added.
Five of the women were teachers, the sixth was a lady health worker (LHW) and the man worked as a health technician. All of them worked for SWWS, which works on health, education and water sanitation issues in the remote areas of Swabi. The women were aged 20 to 35 and the health technician was 52.
Zulfiqar Bangash, the SHO of Chauta Lahor police station, said that he was patrolling the area when the incident took place. “After hearing gunshots, I rushed to the site – only to find bodies in the van and a child crying nearby,” he told The Express Tribune.
The casualties were driven to the Bacha Khan Medical Complex in Shah Mansoor Town where medics confirmed they received seven bodies raked with gunshots. The injured driver was referred to a hospital in Peshawar due to his life-threatening wounds.
The victims were identified as LHW Naila Naz, teachers Rahila, Zahida, Gul Naz, Asmiyat and Shurat, and medical technician Amjid Ali.
Abzar Khan, a mentor for the slain workers, said that Rahila, Asmiyat, Zahida and Gul Naz were teaching at a community school in Sher Afzal Bhanda village which was set up by the SWWS.
“The innocent girls worked to support their families,” said the SWWS executive director, Javed Akhtar. He pointed out that his NGO was focusing on raising health and education standards in the region.
Akhtar wouldn’t say his organisation had received any threats from militants. “This brutal attack is as unexpected for me as it could be for everyone else,” Akhtar said. However, he added that his NGO would not be coerced into stopping its work. “We will never stop our work. We must continue,” he said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack – but DPO Khan said it was clearly an incident of militancy. “A wave of terrorism is continuing in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, so we are investigating whether it’s a part of the same wave or
there were any other motives,” he added.
Taliban insurgents have sporadically attacked local and foreign NGOs and polio vaccinators who, they allege, are working against Muslims, their faith and local culture.
Last month, nine polio field workers were shot dead in a string of attacks in Karachi, Charsadda and Peshawar. The killings prompted the World Health Organisation and Unicef to suspend work on polio campaigns in the country.
Last month, a Swedish woman charity worker died after being shot in the chest in Lahore where she worked for the US-founded Full Gospel Assemblies, which runs charities, including a technical training institute and adult literacy centre.
In August 2011, US development worker Warren Weinstein was kidnapped after gunmen tricked their way into his Lahore home. Officials believe he is being held by al Qaeda and Taliban extremists in tribal regions. In April 2012, a British Muslim Red Cross worker was beheaded after being kidnapped in Quetta.
Appeal for protection
Charity workers condemned Tuesday’s attack and 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 Roohul Amin, who heads an umbrella organisation of charities in Swabi.
Idrees Kamal, the coordinator of Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network (PCSN), demanded that the killers be arrested, and called for protection and compensation.
“The PCSN demands that the provincial government arrests the killers of the welfare workers. The PCSN will formulate a joint strategy to tackle the matter,” he said in a statement. (With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2013.