2 Chinese tourists among victims of Himalayan attack

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

A night-time attack by gunmen dressed as police in which nine tourists, including two Chinese, were killed was among the worst attacks on foreigners in Pakistan in a decade and underscored the growing reach of militants in a region once considered secure.

Saturday night's attack - claimed by the Taliban - at a remote camp in the Pakistani Himalayas, has embarrassed the new government just weeks after it took office.

Police said that at 1am, 15 attackers wearing uniforms used by a local paramilitary force descended on a group of tents and huts used by hikers scaling the flanks of the snow-covered 8,125-metre Nanga Parbat peak.

As the killing spree began, the intruders shot dead a Pakistani guard with the tourists and held other workers at gunpoint, a senior official from the northern Gilgit-Baltistan province said. A Chinese climber managed to escape by hiding in a water drain.

"The gunmen held the staff hostage and then started killing foreign tourists and made their escape," the official said. Five of the tourists killed were Ukrainians, one a Chinese-American and the other a Russian.

The climbers were staying at a base camp for Nanga Parbat at Fairy Meadows in Gilgit-Baltistan, which borders China and Kashmir.

It was the first time foreign tourists had been attacked in the province, where the convergence of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayan ranges has created a stunning landscape explored by only a trickle of the most intrepid mountaineers.

Pakistan's Taliban movement and a smaller militant group both claimed responsibility.

The shootings, which followed several deadly bombings in different parts of Pakistan in the past week, pose a fresh challenge for the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is battling accusations that his calls for dialogue with insurgents amount to appeasing violent extremists.

The deaths of the Chinese are a particular blow for Pakistan, which hosted Premier Li Keqiang last month in a bid to boost trade via their shared border in Gilgit-Baltistan. Sharif condemned "these inhuman and cruel acts", ordered a thorough investigation and called for the culprits to be brought to justice.

"Those who have committed this heinous crime seem to be attempting to disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries," China's Foreign Ministry said.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told parliament he had sacked Gilgit-Baltistan's police chief and another senior provincial official, an unusual step in Pakistan where senior officials are rarely held accountable for lapses in security.

The move did little to silence questions from critics who asked how gunmen could have slipped past security forces at check points meant to scrutinise visitors to the sensitive mountain region bordering the disputed territory of Kashmir. The interior minister conceded there was no security escort for foreigners in that area of the mountains.

Recent attacks by Pakistani militant groups have tended to focus on security forces and religious minorities, but foreigners have also been targets in the past.

In 2002, 11 French engineers working on the construction of submarines were killed in a suicide bombing in Karachi.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse