OGHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Suspected Islamist militants stormed an office of a U.S.-based, Christian aid agency in Pakistan on Wednesday, killing six Pakistani aid workers after singling them out and then blowing up the building.
Nuclear-armed U.S. ally Pakistan is battling al Qaeda-linked militants who have launched a string of attacks over the past few years, including some on foreign targets.
Gunmen burst into the World Vision office in Oghi village in Mansehra district, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Islamabad, at about 9 a.m. (0400 GMT), police and a witness said.
“About 10 men came, they were all wearing masks. They kicked the doors down, took everyone out of their offices, put them in one place and then started shooting,” said an office administrator, who asked to be identified only as Asif.
“They threw a bomb as they were leaving,” he said.
The office was largely destroyed by the blast, which left a crater by the main door. Bits of broken concrete and glass littered the floor, which was also strewn with wrecked office furniture and equipment.
A door plastered with decorations for a birthday was blown off its hinges. Nearby, a calendar on a glass-strewn desk showed a workshop had been scheduled for Wednesday.
Pools of blood lay under an upturned chair and under a nearby desk. A trail of blood stained a concrete sidewalk at the back of the building.
World Vision said the six dead were Pakistani members of staff and it was suspending all operations in the country.
Seven members of staff were wounded and one was missing, the agency said in a statement, adding that its relief and development work in Pakistan was conducted by Pakistanis.
“Those who kill humanitarian workers must be reminded that they are not only killing their own country’s residents, but also people seeking to improve the lives of victims of poverty and injustice,” it said.
Mansehra town, in North West Frontier Province, has been a hub for relief efforts following an earthquake that killed 73,000 people in October 2005.
The area has been generally peaceful although there have been occasional attacks. In 2008, gunmen attacked an office of the Plan International aid agency in Mansehra town, killing four Pakistani staff.
“WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS JOB?”
Other survivors said the gunmen singled out the aid workers, separating them from some laborers who happened to be there, before shooting them execution style.
“They asked everyone ‘why are you doing this job?'. Some people said they would stop,” agency project officer Munir Ahmed said from a hospital bed.
“They started shooting at us and then I heard an explosion,” said Ahmed, 36, who was wounded in the head.
Mansehra district is east of the Swat region, where the army launched an offensive a year ago to clear out Pakistani Taliban. The offensive raised fears at the time the militants might be pushed into Mansehra.
Police said they were hunting for the gunmen in a nearby forest.
A passerby, Mohammad Salim, said he saw the gunmen leaving, firing their rifles into the air as they made their escape on foot. Most were wearing military-style green jackets, he said.
The United Nations and aid agencies have occasionally been forced to limit their operations and the movement of foreign staff because of security worries but many relief groups are operating in Pakistan.
Aid workers in the conservative Mansehra district have met some hostility, often because of the presence of women members of staff and projects aimed at women. World Vision said it had not received any threats before the attack.
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony and Kamran Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel