* Armed gang opens fire on hikers at their camp
* Two Islamist groups claims responsibility
* Victims from Ukraine, China, Russia, one had US passport
(Adds Chinese government comment, U.S. passport)
By By Jibran Ahmed
PESHAWAR, Pakistan June 23 Gunmen stormed a
mountaineering base camp in northern Pakistan on Sunday 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,
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 U.S. passport, a U.S.
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 1 a.m. 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
"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
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 with the Asian giant via their shared
border in Gilgit-Baltistan.
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.
There were conflicting claims of responsibility for the
attack. A Pakistani militant group known as Jundullah, with a
track record of attacks in the province, was the first to say it
was behind the raid.
"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
The same group has claimed responsibility for a series of
attacks in northern Pakistan in recent years, mostly on members
of Pakistan's Shi'ite Muslim minority.
Pakistan's Taliban movement, which has its centre of gravity
closer to the Afghan border, said it had shot the trekkers in
retaliation for a U.S. drone strike in May that killed its
second in command, Wali-ur-Rehman.
"We wanted to seek revenge for the killing of our leader in
the drone attack," said Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. "Our
attacks on foreigners will continue to protest drone strikes."
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the competing
claims. Jundullah and the much larger Pakistani Taliban are
among loosely aligned militant groups that frequently share
personnel, tactics and agendas. Claims for specific incidents
are often hard to verify.
Recent attacks by Pakistani militant groups have tended to
focus on security forces and religious minorities, particularly
Shi'ites, but foreigners have also been targets in the past.
In 2002, 11 French engineers and technicians working on the
construction of submarines for the Pakistan navy were killed
along with three Pakistanis in a suicide bombing outside a hotel
in the port city of Karachi. In 2009, gunmen attacked the
visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in the eastern city of Lahore.
Last weekend, in the southwestern city of Quetta, a suicide
bomber attacked a bus carrying women students and then gunmen
stormed the hospital treating survivors. More than 20 people
(Writing by Matthew Green; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and