ISLAMABAD: Gunmen dressed as paramilitary police killed nine foreign tourists in an unprecedented attack in the Himalayas of Nanga Parbat on Sunday, in a security failure bound to embarrass the new government just weeks after it took office.
The bodies of the victims were shifted to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) in Islamabad for post portem and other legal formalities.
The night-time raid - which killed five Ukrainians, three Chinese and a Russian - was among the worst attacks on foreigners in Pakistan in a decade.
One of the victims also held a US passport, a US official said, without giving further details.
The deaths of the Chinese are a particular blow for Pakistan, which hosted Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last month in a bid to boost trade ties with the Asian giant via their shared border in Gilgit-Baltistan.
China issued a statement condemning the attack and calling for Pakistan to “severely punish” the perpetrators.
Moreover the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Gilgit incident, whereas Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan declared that the attack on foreigners was an attack on Pakistan.
Spokesperson for the proscribed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Ehsanullah Ehsan, talking to Dawn.com from an undisclosed location claimed that the Janud-e-Hafsa faction of the militant organisation had carried out the attack.
Ehsan said that the attack was carried out to "avenge the killing of their front-rank leader, Waliur Rehman, and to express anger at the international community for its continued support to drone strikes."
Earlier Reuters had reported that another banned militant group Jundullah as claiming responsibility for the attack and had quoted the group's spokesman, Ahmed Marwat, as saying "These foreigners are our enemies and we proudly claim responsibility for killing them and will continue such attacks in the future as well.”
The gunmen stormed into a base camp, killing Chinese and Ukrainian climbers in an area of the far-flung north not previously associated with violence or Islamist militancy.
Officials said five Ukrainians and a number of Chinese were killed. One Pakistani also died and one Chinese survivor has been recovered, the government said.
The climbers were staying at a first camp, around 4,200 feet, 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 10:00 pm (1700 GMT Saturday). They were mountaineers,” Diamer police official Mohammed Naveed told AFP.
“Gunmen came and opened fire on them. It is confirmed that they have been killed,” he said. Five Ukrainians were among the dead, Ukraine's ambassador to Pakistan Vladimir Lakomov told AFP.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told parliament that one Chinese survivor had been rescued.
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.
While Gilgit-Baltistan has seen deadly sectarian violence targeting Pakistan's Shia Muslim minority, foreigners have never before been targeted in such a remote part of the region, which officials said was inaccessible by road.
Helicopters were dispatched to recover the bodies, and that police and paramilitary had been ordered into the area, officials said.
Nisar told parliament that the attackers were dressed as Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police unit, and accessed the camp with the help of two guides whom they kidnapped.
“They abducted two guides and through them reached the area. One guide was killed in the shoot-out. One is alive. He is now detained and being questioned,” he said.
The interior minister conceded there was no police or security escort for foreigners up in that area of the mountains.
The top bureaucrat and top police official in Gilgit-Baltistan were on Sunday suspended, state TV said.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned these inhuman and cruel acts, ordered to conduct thorough investigation, and apprehend the culprits to bring them to justice,” the government said.
Nawaz extended his sympathies to the bereaved families, saying that “the people and government of Pakistan stand by you in this hour of huge distress”.
Officials also spoke to the Chinese and Ukrainian ambassadors on Sunday to express their condolences, the foreign ministry added.
“Those who have committed this heinous crime seem to be attempting to disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries,” it said.