Pakistan’s foreign minister dismissed as “bogus” a claim by the Taliban that it shot down a military helicopter that killed six people, including the Philippine ambassador to Pakistan Domingo Lucenario Jr., a report by China’s state news agency Xinhua said on Saturday.
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Foreign Minister Aizaz Ahmad ruled out possibility of terrorism in the tragedy on Friday and said the crash occurred due to technical failure of the helicopter’s engine of the helicopter.
A military helicopter, carrying Islamabad-based diplomats, came down near Gilgit while making a crash landing due to engine failure, Ahmad said.
Immediately after the incident was reported in the media, a Taliban spokesman issued a statement claiming that the group had struck the aircraft with a ground-to-air missile hoping to assassinate Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“A special group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had prepared a special plan to target Nawaz Sharif during his visit, but he survived because he was travelling in another helicopter,” Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khorasani said.
Pakistani officials as well as news agencies doubted the claim. The Taliban does not have a particularly strong presence in Gilgit-Baltistan, the northern region where the chopper came down.
A report on the Deutsche Welle website said the militant group has previously claimed responsibility for incidents it had no involvement in.
“Pakistan Army had arranged top class security for the visitors and claims of TTP about hitting the helicopter are bogus,” Ahmad said who was flanked by army and air force officers who also gave details of the incident.
Ahmad explained that under instructions of the prime minister, the army had deployed about a thousand troops to secure the area where officials and diplomats would pass on Friday.
The foreign minister said two of the helicopter landed safely at Naltar area and the third one met the accident due to technical fault near the site of landing.
Deutsche Welle also reported that Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khwaja Asif has said that the government was investigating the incident.
“The initial reports suggest that the helicopter crashed due to technical problems. It was not a terrorist attack. We will continue to investigate what caused the MI-17 crash,” Asif said.
Ahmad also said the chief of the Pakistan army has constituted an investigation board. He added that the black box of the ill- fated helicopter has been recovered.
To another question about the crashed chopper, he said the helicopter was commissioned in 2002 and was regularly being serviced. Latest service was carried out just eleven hours before the accident.
Ahmad said the priority of the government is to transport dead bodies, injured and other dignitaries back to Islamabad. Arrangements have also been made for the airlifting of the fatalities’ remains to their respective countries with full honor and respect.
Pakistani ministers and senior officials would accompany the dead bodies to their respective countries.
President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd on Friday conveyed his sympathy and condolences to the family of Ambassador Lucenario.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President was saddened upon learning that Ambassador Lucenario was among those killed in a helicopter crash in the Naltar Valley area of Pakistan.
“President Aquino expressed sadness and grief on the death of Philippine Ambassador to Pakistan Domingo Lucenario, Jr. who was among those killed in a helicopter crash in northern Pakistan,” Coloma said.
President Aquino is in Canada on a three-day state visit.
Coloma said news of the tragedy reached the President in Ottawa, where the President began his state visit to Canada Thursday (Friday in Manila).
“He said that the Philippines lost an outstanding career diplomat who served his country with distinction for nearly three decades,” said Coloma, who is also part of the Philippine delegation.
“In behalf of the Philippine government and people, he conveyed his sympathy and condolences with Ambassador Lucenario’s family,” the communications secretary added.
Ambassador Lucenario, 54, was a career ambassador who served the Philippine government for over 25 years, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
“During his term as ambassador to Pakistan, relations between the Philippines and Pakistan have enjoyed a robust partnership in various areas of cooperation,” the department said.