Militants stormed a building used by a US-based Christian charity in Pakistan on Wednesday, sparking heavy clashes with police and killing six people, police and an aid worker said.
Up to 15 gunmen arrived in pick-up vehicles and began firing on the aid workers of World Vision – a US-based charity organization. Some observers say the attack on the aid workers could have been based on a perception that they may have been proselytizing.
World Vision’s website describes the organisation as “a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice”.
It says the aid group is “inspired by our Christian values”, but stresses that the organisation works with people of all faiths.
The gunmen attacked offices of World Vision near Oghi town, in Mansehra, a relatively peaceful district of the troubled North West Frontier Province, where Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants have carried out multiple attacks.
Police said five people were killed, including two women, but an aid worker said that six World Vision staff died and six were seriously wounded, with staff still trapped in the besieged building.
“They opened fire and also exploded hand grenades,” senior police officer Waqar Ahmed said. “So far we have confirmation about the deaths of five people, including two women,” he said, giving no further details.
An aid worker confirmed that a group of militants had attacked the World Vision office early Wednesday, unleashing heavy gunfire and sparking a battle with police, who rushed to the site.
“Six staff from World Vision are dead, six are seriously injured. More information is coming. The staff are trapped in the office,” he said.
Foreign targets are rarely attacked directly in Pakistan, despite the chronic insecurity in the nuclear-armed state, which is a key ally in the US-led war on al-Qaida and the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. A wave of suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan has killed more than 3,000 people since 2007. Blame has fallen on Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants bitterly opposed to the alliance with the United States.
Four local staff with the British-run aid group Plan International were killed in a similar attack in Mansehra in February 2008, prompting some charities to withdraw their offices from the troubled area. The Plan office was burned to the ground in the attack by gunmen who opened fire and hurled grenades, and the non-governmental organisation, which had been active in the area for 12 years, halted its operations in Pakistan.