Gunmen on motorcycles sprayed a van carrying employees from a community center with bullets Tuesday, killing five female teachers and two aid workers, but sparing a child they took out of the vehicle before opening fire.
The director of the group that the seven worked for says he suspects it may have been the latest in a series of attacks targeting anti-polio efforts in Pakistan. Some terrorists oppose the vaccination campaigns, accusing health workers of acting as spies for the U.S. and alleging the vaccine is intended to harm Muslim children.
Last month, nine people working on an anti-polio vaccination campaign were shot and killed. Four of those shootings were in the northwest where Tuesday’s attack took place.
The attack was another reminder of the risks to women educators and aid workers from Islamists who oppose their work. It was in the same conservative province where terrorists shot and seriously wounded 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, an outspoken young activist for girls’ education, in October.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest shootings.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly called the Northwest Frontier province, borders the tribal areas of Pakistan along the frontier with Afghanistan to the west. Terrorist groups such as the Taliban have used the tribal areas as a stronghold from which to wage war both in Afghanistan and against the Pakistani government. Often that violence has spilled over into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
In 2007, the Taliban led by Maulana Fazlullah took over the scenic Swat Valley, marking the height of their strength there. The Pakistani military later pushed them from the valley, but the Taliban has repeatedly tried to reassert itself.
The injured driver in Swabi told investigators that the gunmen stopped the vehicle and removed a boy — the son of one of the women — before indiscriminately opening fire, said police officer Fazal Malik. The woman’s husband rushed to the scene after receiving a phone call alerting him to the shooting.
Swabi police chief Abdur Rasheed said most of the women killed were between the ages of 20 and 22. He said four gunmen on two motorcycles fled the scene and have not been apprehended.
The NGO conducts education and health programs and runs the community center in Swabi, Akhtar said. The group has been active in the city since 1992, and started the Ujala Community Welfare Center in 2010, he added. Ujala means “light” in Urdu.
The center is financed by the Pakistani government’s Poverty Alleviation Program and a German organization, said Akhtar.