ISLAMABAD: Gunmen killed nine foreign tourists in an unprecedented attack in Pakistan’s normally peaceful Himalayan region, spotlighting violence just weeks after a new civilian government took office vowing to quell militancy.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif swiftly condemned the attack in an area of the far-flung north not previously associated with violence or Islamist militancy that plagues other parts of the country.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the attack threatens to jeopardize future foreign expeditions by mountaineers, among the few international tourists who still visit a country often seen as synonymous abroad with Al-Qaeda-linked militancy.
Police said the gunmen killed nine foreigners and a Pakistani overnight at a base camp for Nanga Parbat, one of the highest mountains in the world, in the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan.
“There were nine foreigners and one Pakistani. The incident took place around 10 p.m. [5 p.m. on Saturday, Manila time]. They were mountaineers and based in a camp,” Diamer police official Mohammed Naveed said.
“Gunmen came and opened fire on them. It is confirmed that they have been killed,” he said.
He could not immediately confirm their nationalities, although state-run television PTV quoted police as saying they included Chinese, Ukrainians and Russians.
The Himalayas in northern Pakistan offer some of the most spectacular climbing in the world. Its peaks are a magnet for experienced mountaineers, often from Europe.
Pakistani officials said helicopters had been dispatched to recover the bodies, and that police and paramilitary had been ordered into the area.
“A search operation has been launched. All the entry and exit points have been sealed,” said Naveed.
Police gave no information about the attackers and there was no immediate claim.
While Gilgit-Baltistan has seen bloody sectarian attacks targeting Pakistan’s Shiite Muslim minority, no previous violence has been reported in such a remote part of the region.
Officials said the area was inaccessible by road.