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One of the gunmen who massacred 10 foreign climbers in Pakistan a year ago has revealed how they were tied up and shot one by one in cold blood after a kidnap attempt went disastrously wrong in northern Gilgit-Baltistan area. — Photo by AFP
One of the gunmen who massacred 10 foreign climbers in Pakistan a year ago has revealed how they were tied up and shot one by one in cold blood after a kidnap attempt went disastrously wrong in northern Gilgit-Baltistan area. — Photo by AFP

GILGIT: The massacre of 10 foreign climbers on Pakistan's “Killer Mountain” a year ago came after a failed attempt to capture a Chinese-American to use him as a high-value bargaining chip, officials and militant sources have said.

The June 22 attack at the base camp for the 8,126-metre Nanga Parbat, Pakistan's second-highest mountain — nicknamed for its treacherous terrain — was the deadliest assault on foreigners in the country for a decade.

Through interviews with multiple officials, militants and negotiators assigned to bring the culprits out of hiding, AFP has been able to piece together a picture of the events surrounding the slaughter and its aftermath.

One year on, with tourism in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region still suffering, most of the 10 suspects implicated in the attack are still at large, while sources close to the investigation have cast doubt on the guilt of some of those arrested.

The victims were identified as three Ukrainians, two Chinese — including Chinese-American Chen Honglu — two Slovakians, one Lithuanian and one Nepalese as well as a Pakistani guide.

But dual national Chen was the prime target, according to militant sources.

Mystery commanders

The story begins in early June 2013, when a local jihadist contacted other fighters to tell them two mysterious commanders had arrived from out of town and wanted to meet.

The northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, high in the Himalayas, has been relatively immune to the militant insurgency plaguing the country in recent years.

The men met at a house in the town of Chilas, where the two strangers, wearing all-enveloping burqas, were introduced as important Taliban cadres from Afghanistan.

The local fighters were briefed on the planned Nanga Parbat operation.

“They were told that the mission was about kidnapping a foreigner in order to later bargain for the release of an important Taliban commander,” an investigator assigned to the case said.

Militant sources told AFP the Chinese-American was the specific target, with the plan being to trade him for Taliban in Afghanistan.

The men then met a local sectarian group in a forest, recruiting two more fighters — against the sectarian group leader's wishes — to bring their number to 10.

They left for the Nanga Parbat base camp in the early evening, wearing the uniforms of the Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police unit.

“The two burqa-clad commanders had taken off their burqas and were in military uniforms like the rest of us but their faces were covered with a cloth,” a militant source told AFP, explaining that they were supposed to grab the target.

But as the attack unfolded in the freezing night, Chen burst out of his tent and tackled one of the militants using martial arts techniques.

The militant, named Mujeeb, panicked and shot him, destroying the main purpose of the mission and infuriating the shadowy masked commanders.

The remaining climbers were then tied up and shot one by one.

“It all happened because of Mujeeb,” said a local source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The actual plan had been to kidnap a Chinese-American but his reaction led to the killing of himself and 10 others,” he said.

This account was corroborated by two officials from the team investigating the attack.

After the slaughter, the attackers walked for five hours to a remote village where they buried their uniforms and had breakfast before walking on to another village and dispersing.

High-value target

Beyond Chen's US nationality it is unclear why he became such a valued target of the group.

The 50-year-old studied electrical engineering at Tsinghua University in China, and worked for some time in California before returning to Shanghai, according to the Alpinist magazine.

In a video clip recorded by negotiators who met with him, Mujeeb owned up to the killing of Chen but told them he would not surrender because he acted in “self-defence”.

“What did you expect me to do, wait for him to kill me? I panicked and opened fire,” Mujeeb said on the video.

More than four months went by before authorities made their first arrests in the case.

A total of 18 people were detained, of whom five are still in custody — but several militant sources say only one of them was involved in the attack, while the rest were forced to confess.

Mujeeb remains in hiding in the forests of the district, where from time to time he makes audio recordings of jihadist poetry that find their way to the markets of Gilgit town.

Bashir Qureshi, a member of the negotiating team, said there were many grey areas in the case.

“Nothing is clear, they have mixed up four different cases to give an impression that all the perpetrators have been arrested but the real perpetrators are still at large,” he said.

Comments (30) Closed

TM Jun 29, 2014 12:19pm

What about mastermind ?

MAK Jun 29, 2014 12:22pm

My Apologies to Chinese and American People. Not even the Pakistani academics know the true value of a Tsinghua University graduates. Tsinghua University is China's MIT. Chinese parents dedicate their life for their kids and it is extremely competitive to get into Tsinghua University. I am very saddened for the lives lostin Pakistan for all our International guest no matter where they are from. I just happen to know few graduates from Tsinghua and I am an American from California in Semiconductor's business. My condolences to bereaved families.

Ashfaq Jun 29, 2014 12:57pm

I feel sorry for my self as well, not just for a Chinese but all who lost their lives for nothing. They were all our guests.

NHM Jun 29, 2014 01:11pm

TM, the mastermind is the usual suspect ,resides across the eastern border.

shah Jun 29, 2014 01:16pm

Terrorists don't face the law in Pakistan. Very regrettable.

Afzal Khan Jun 29, 2014 01:17pm

Who was behind all this and what was the reason for killing 10 innocent peoples.?

Feroz Jun 29, 2014 01:27pm

The real perpetrators will always remain at large, without it the masterminds cannot be shielded from trouble.

Mehtab Jun 29, 2014 01:28pm

Investigating authorities are either incompetent or having soft corner for terrorists. Otherwise, they would have exposed all terrorists after trail of horrendous crimes perpetrated on Karakoram Highway. This criminal negligence will allow more crimes.

nouman Jun 29, 2014 01:38pm

Nothing is what is seems anymore; after CIA led polio, edward snowden and manning

Shuaib Bhat Jun 29, 2014 01:59pm

My condolences go to the families of the victims and I hope our country will serve you justice!

Rim Jun 29, 2014 02:34pm

A cowardly attack on innocent people by those who have no ounce of respect for common humanity or teachings of Islam. To the mindless thugs and killers who are bent on destroying Pakistan you have no place in our country and justice, and retribution through law (not the law of the jungle or the twisted logic you lot aspire to teach and uphold) will come soon, if not on the day of Day Judgment.

Harmony Jun 29, 2014 03:06pm

@Afzal Khan - if you read the article, you will know the "reason".

Harmony Jun 29, 2014 03:13pm

Harmony Jun 29, 2014 03:16pm

@shah - "Terrorists don't face the law in Pakistan". Yeah, they don't, they just get killed (sometimes).

saqib Jun 29, 2014 03:40pm

The sooner we kill all these religious nut cases the better for all of us, Pakistani's are a hospitable people by nature i don't know from where did this thinking develop in these religious fools.

lateef Jun 29, 2014 04:34pm

Chinese should be protected and must be given top priority for their security and this will maintain our good relations with china.

Ash Jun 29, 2014 05:32pm

@lateef What about others?

Krish Jun 29, 2014 05:34pm

@saqib :

"Pakistani's are a hospitable people by nature i don't know from where did this thinking develop in these religious fools."

From the wrong interpretation of Religion. Unfortunately there is a large number of such people. This is the source of the problem now AND throughout history...

Ruddrakishore Jun 29, 2014 05:50pm

I am confused. I thought this was done by the Indians?

Annie Jun 29, 2014 08:30pm

So sad.

Najma Jun 29, 2014 10:57pm

People put hard work in their lives to be able to achieve something substantial such as personal achievement of pushing the physical limits. After all the hard work and surviving the rat race, high charging alpha personalities try to do something different such as conquering the highest peaks around the world. These are not run of the mill ordinary people. Just imagine the courage of these mountaineers whose life were taken away for nothing they knew well the lurking dangers that the faced in a hostile territory. We all tend to believe that all lives are equal but these kind of incidents make one think that there are some lower forms too whose mere existence is despicable. The sad part of this episode is in finding missing conscious in Pakistan to even start a meaningful investigation. I used to think about the missing facilities for mountaineers specially International but now I say that why the society has stooped to so low that it can not even distinguish between what is wrong and morally totally wrong.

Jak Jun 30, 2014 01:48am

Most important question is how those people know who? and esp a Chinese American is in that team? What was the purpose of covering their faces throughout, and how come people cooperate and collaborate with the people who even do not trust them to show their faces?

Rev. Eldrick Lal Jun 30, 2014 05:17am

I loathe who kill innocent people whether they are Pakistani or Chinese.

zafar Jun 30, 2014 06:04am

This story does not make sense. It sounds like the intent is made into an excuse - we killed 10 because one died accidentally. Even if the Chinese American was the target, why would you kill the other and try to justify this. Another aspect of this is how these people had knowledge of who was on that mountain. For Taliban to know this seems like a total insider job - someone inside the government knowing the background of the mountaineers and passing it on. Otherwise how would these people find the exact background of the mountaineers (a Chinese who was also an American).

Yusuf Jun 30, 2014 02:27pm

@nouman They must have had access to his papers, either from a hotel register, or from airport entry/registration books. That book used at Gilgit and Skardu, Chitral airport must be a goldmine of information!

M aslam Jun 30, 2014 08:24pm

@saqib This was injected from eastern and northern borders.

GD Jun 30, 2014 09:01pm

China is paying the price of feeding snakes. They have their own growing terrorist problem and now one of their own died like a cattle. You reap what you sow. Some observations after reading: 1. Identity of this Chinese fellow as Chinese american. This is insider job. Some one working for government of pakistan leaked this vital info. Some one wanted some Afgan terrorist to be released. 2. The Chinese fellow charged at the gun wielding terrorist in the middle of cold dark night high in the mountain. It shows courage. And it shows training and preparation. This guy was well trained and fearless. 3. They have not arrested culprits yet. Some one is trying to protect these beasts.

mariah Jun 30, 2014 10:36pm


krishnan Jul 01, 2014 05:57am

@Ruddrakishore Many Pakistanis are also confused.Indians are sometimes funding TTP ,sometimes the Taliban,other times ,Mumbai terrorists.At some point of time, LET may be added to their wish list.

Janderbari-Malikpur-Abbottabad Jul 01, 2014 02:15pm

The only comments we as Pakistani need to culminate these terrorists. Why don't they fight in their own country for jehad?