Pakistan bomb kills eight, including foreign aid workers

A powerful roadside bomb struck a convoy near a girls' school in Pakistan on Wednesday, killing eight people including four foreign aid workers and three school girls, police said.

The bomb exploded as Pakistani paramilitary forces escorted a group of international charity workers and journalists to a function at the school in the volatile northwestern district of Lower Dir, officials said.

"Eight people were killed in this blast. Four foreigners, one gunman and three school girls," district police chief Mumtaz Zarin said.

"The school building was also badly damaged and three vehicles destroyed," he added, speaking by telephone from the area.

The attack happened in the village of Koto in the mountainous area of Balambat, around 10 kilometres (six miles) from Taimargara, the main town of Lower Dir district.

"The four foreigners were working for an NGO (non-governmental organisation). They are from the international community," said a spokesman for the Frontier Corps paramilitary.

Doctor Sardar Ali told AFP from Taimargara Hospital that medics had received the bodies of three school girls and another man.

"I don't know where they have taken the dead bodies of foreigners," he said from the local hospital.

Police said they were investigating the nationalities of the foreigners and added that four local journalists were also injured in the blast.

Foreign aid workers and journalists have been particularly interested in girls' education in parts of northwest Pakistan, where Islamist militants opposed to co-education have destroyed hundreds of schools.

Pakistan carried out a major offensive to crush a Taliban insurgency last year in Lower Dir and the neighbouring districts of Swat and Buner.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned Wednesday's blast and ordered an investigation into the incident.

Lower Dir borders Bajaur, a district in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt where a suicide bombing killed 17 people at a military checkpoint on Saturday and where Pakistan is waging a new air and ground assault on militants.

US officials call Pakistan's tribal belt the most dangerous place on earth and, following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the headquarters of Al-Qaeda, which has links to Taliban and other extreme Islamist networks.

 

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