Nine foreign trekkers and guide killed by gunmen at base camp in Pakistan

15-strong gang of attackers wearing uniforms used by a local paramilitary force storm base beneath one of world’s tallest mountains

Hospital staff and rescue workers move the body of one of the nine foreign tourists killed by unidentified gunmen near the Nanga Parbat peak, from an ambulance to a hospital morgue in Islamabad yesterday.  Photograph: Sohail Shahzad/Reuters

Hospital staff and rescue workers move the body of one of the nine foreign tourists killed by unidentified gunmen near the Nanga Parbat peak, from an ambulance to a hospital morgue in Islamabad yesterday. Photograph: Sohail Shahzad/Reuters

Mon, Jun 24, 2013, 01:00

Gunmen stormed a mountaineering base camp in northern Pakistan yesterday and shot dead nine foreign trekkers and a Pakistani guide as they rested during an arduous climb up one of the world’s tallest peaks, police said.

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 and underscored the growing reach of militants in a highland region once considered secure.

One of the victims also held a US passport, a US official said, without giving further details.

Police said a 15-strong gang of attackers wearing uniforms used by a local paramilitary force arrived at about 1am at a group of tents and ramshackle huts used by hikers scaling the flanks of the snow-covered 8,125-metre Nanga Parbat peak.

The assailants shot dead a Pakistani guard and held other workers at gunpoint, a senior official from the northern Gilgit-Baltistan province said. A Chinese climber managed to escape.

“The gunmen held the staff hostage and then started killing foreign tourists and made their escape,” the official said.

It was the first time foreign tourists had been attacked in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan, where the convergence of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayan ranges creates a stunning landscape explored by only a trickle of the most intrepid mountaineers.

Pakistan’s Taliban movement and a smaller militant group both claimed responsibility.

The shootings, which followed several deadly bombings in different parts of Pakistan in the past week, pose a fresh challenge for the new government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is battling accusations that his calls for dialogue with insurgents amount to appeasing violent extremists.

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.

China issued a statement condemning the attack and calling for Pakistan to “severely punish” the perpetrators.

Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told parliament he had sacked Gilgit-Baltistan’s police chief and another provincial official, an unusual step in Pakistan where senior officials are rarely held accountable for lapses in security.

The move did little to silence critics who asked how gunmen could have slipped past security forces at check points meant to scrutinise visitors to the sensitive mountain region bordering the disputed territory of Kashmir. – (Reuters)