GILGIT: Gunmen overran a mountaineering base camp and shot dead foreign trekkers who were resting during a climb up one of the world’s tallest peaks, police and administration officials said on Sunday.
The attackers — who were dressed as paramilitary Gilgit Scouts — killed 10 foreign climbers, including Chinese and Ukrainian nationals, and their Pakistani cook at the foot of Nanga Parbat, the 9th tallest peak in the world, in the early hours of Sunday.
Interestingly, two outlawed militant groups claimed responsibility for the base camp shootings near Kutgali in the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) region.
“Eleven people were killed in the attack that took place in Buner Nullah near the base camp,” Deputy Inspector General of Police Ali Sher told The Express Tribune, without disclosing the nationalities of the victims. However, other officials identified the victims as two Chinese, one Chinese-American, three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese and their Pakistani cook.
Yang Chunfeng (Chinese), Rao Jianfeng (Chinese), Honglu Chen (American of Chinese origin), Sona Sherpa
(Nepalese), Ernestas Marksaitis (Lithuanian),
Matt Boland, acting spokesperson for the US Embassy in Islamabad, confirmed to AFP that an American citizen had been killed in the attack and extended condolences to the families of the “innocent tourists”.
The gunmen shot dead a Pakistani cook with the tourists and held other workers at gunpoint, a senior official of the G-B government told Reuters. A Chinese climber managed to escape.
The federal interior minister said the security forces using military helicopters had retrieved the Chinese national who was later shifted to a safe place. The other guide was also arrested and is currently under investigation.
“The gunmen held the staff hostage and then started killing foreign
tourists before making their escape,” the official added.
The interior minister said the attackers were dressed as Gilgit Scouts and reached the area by abducting two guides. “One guide was killed in the shootout. One is alive. He is now detained and being questioned,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told journalists in Islamabad.
“The area where the incident occurred is unmanned and is at two-day trek from Chilas, the headquarters of Diamer Valley where the peak is located,” said local police official Alif Khan. “We have reports that three of the dead climbers were Chinese,” he added.
There were conflicting claims of responsibility for the attack. Sectarian extremist group Jundullah, with a track record of attacks in the region, was the first to say it was behind the raid.
“These foreigners are our enemies and we proudly claim responsibility for killing them, and will continue such attacks in the future,” Jundullah spokesman Ahmed Marwat told Reuters by telephone.
Later, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said it had shot the trekkers in retaliation for a US drone strike in May that killed the group’s second in command.
“One of our factions, Junood-ul-Hifsa, did it. It is to avenge the killing of our commander Waliur Rehman,” said spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. He added that Junood-ul-Hifsa was a new wing set up by the TTP “to attack foreigners and convey a message to the world against drone strikes”.
Contingents of paramilitary G-B Scouts, Rangers and police have mounted a manhunt for the attackers in the areas around Nanga Parbat.
“Security at the Nullahs [around Nanga Parbat] is being increased to avoid a repeat of such incidents in future,” said a statement issued from the office of G-B Chief Minister Mehdi Shah. Shah denounced the attack as an “act to disrupting Pakistan’s ties with the friendly countries”.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar called it “an attack on Pakistan”.
“The objective behind this attack appeared to tarnish our image and to discourage tourism in Pakistan,” he told journalists after receiving the bodies of foreign trekkers at the Air Marshal Nur Khan airbase in Rawalpindi.
The ambassadors of China and Ukraine and senior officials of Nepalese and Russian embassies were present at the airbase to receive the bodies.
Condemning “these inhuman and cruel acts”, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered a thorough investigation and called for the culprits to be brought to justice.
It was the first time foreign tourists had been attacked in the G-B, where the convergence of the Hindukush, Karakoram and Himalayan ranges has created a stunning landscape explored by only a trickle of the most intrepid mountaineers.
The 8,126-metre Nanga Parbat is the second highest peak in Pakistan after K-2 and is the 9th highest mountain in the world. In summer, it attracts foreign mountaineers and trekkers in droves.
The deaths call into question the future of foreign mountaineering and trekking expeditions, which provide the last vestige of international tourism in a country reeling from a bloody Taliban insurgency. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM NEWS WIRES)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2013.