GILGIT, June 23: Ten foreign climbers and a Pakistani guide and cook were killed as gunmen wearing the uniform of paramilitary Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts stormed into the base camp of Nanga Parbat, one of the world’s highest mountains, in the scenic Himalayan valley of Bunar Das in Gilgit-Baltistan late on Saturday night.

Officials said the attackers had kidnapped two local guides to lead them to the camp. They also took away documents of the foreigners they had killed.

According to sources, two Chinese nationals, a US national of Chinese origin, three Ukrainians, two Slovaks, a Lithuanian and a Nepalese national were killed.

The attackers numbered about 20 and were speaking the local Shina dialect and Pashto and they fled on foot towards the Kel area of Azad Kashmir after the attack, the sources said.

Troops cordoned off the area after retrieving the bodies and sending them to Gilgit.

According to Gilgit’s Deputy Inspector General of Police Ali Sher, a team was sent to the place after information about the attack had been received in Chilas, the Diamer district headquarters, but by that time the terrorists had escaped.

He said preliminary investigation made it clear that the attack was part of terrorism taking place across the country.

He said the topography of the area was difficult to ascertain where the attackers had gone.

DIG Ehsan Tufail said extensive deployment had been made at various points to trace the terrorists.

“The attackers abducted two guides and reached the camp with their help. One of the guides was killed in the shooting and the other has been taken into custody and is being questioned,” he said.

A local police official, Banat Gul, said Diamori, the area where the attack had taken place, was at a distance of two-day trek from Chilas and there was no road link and the police team sent for investigation would return after at least a couple of days.

The climbers were staying at the first camp, around 4,200 feet from Nanga Parbat.

“Efforts are being made to trace the company that had arranged and coordinated the trip to get more information,” an official said.

Gilgit’s Deputy Commissioner Shahbaz Nadeem Bhatti said the bodies had been brought there from Chilas in an army helicopter.

The bodies of foreigners were sent to Islamabad on a C-130 aircraft of the army for post-mortem at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences.

Police officials said the attackers armed with sophisticated guns checked the passports of the members of the expedition before shooting them. They also took away some of the passports.

The top military official in Gilgit-Baltistan, Maj-Gen Hafiz Masroor Ahmed, was among the first officers to reach the site.

They said one Chinese national who had survived the attack had been taken to a hospital.

The officials said the security of tourists in Gilgit and patrolling around their residences had been enhanced. Hotels were being searched and security personnel in plainclothes had been deployed.

The deputy commissioner said it had been ascertained from a passport and other documents that one of the victims was a US national.

An administration official disclosed that the interior ministry had issued a warning a few days ago about possibility of such an attack, but without any specific details.

Gilgit-Baltistan’s Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah suspended Chief Secretary Munir Ahmed Badini and IG Mohammad Usman Zakria on directives issued by the federal government because of the security failure and their unprofessional response to the incident.

The chief minister constituted an investigation team headed by DIG Ali Sher.

The chief minister held an emergency meeting of his cabinet to review the law and order situation.

AFP/AP add: The climbers were staying at the base camp at Fairy Meadows for Nanga Parbat, which at 8,126 metres is the second highest mountain in Pakistan.

Taliban’s claim

The attack was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban who said they had set up a new faction to target foreigners in revenge for US drone strikes.

A spokesman for the Taliban initially refused to comment but later telephoned AFP to claim responsibility.

He said the attack was in response to the death of the group’s deputy chief in a US drone strike near the Afghan border.

“One of our factions, Jundul Hafsa, did it to avenge the killing of Maulvi Waliur Rehman,” the spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said.

He said it was a new wing set up by the Taliban “to attack foreigners and convey a message to the world against drone strikes”.

The militant leader had died on May 29 in a US drone attack on a house in North Waziristan.

However, Jundullah, another militant group with a track record of attacks in Gilgit-Baltistan, was the first to say it was behind the incident.

“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.

The attackers beat up the Pakistanis who were accompanying the tourists, took their money and tied them up, a local government official said.

They checked the identities of the Pakistanis and shot to death one of them, possibly because he was a Shia, he said.

They also took the money and passports from the foreigners and then gunned them down, the official said.

The base camp has basic wooden huts, but most tourists choose to sleep in their own tents.

Local police chief Barkat Ali said they learned of the attack when one of the local guides called a police station at around 1am.



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