Gunmen ambushed a van in north-west Pakistan on Tuesday and shot dead seven aid workers — five of whom were female teachers — in an attack likely to rekindle fears among Pakistanis over militant assaults on the country’s education system.
The workers, members of a Pakistani non-governmental organisation called Support With Working Solutions, were in a van leaving a community centre near the north-western city of Swabi when two gunmen on motorcycles forced the vehicle to stop, Swabi police said.
According to the van’s driver, Abdul Majid, the gunmen positioned their motorcycles in the middle of the road, pulled out pistols and opened fire on the van.
‘‘I think the attackers were already waiting for us,’’ said Abdul Majid, speaking from his bed at a hospital in the city of Peshawar, where he was being treated for gunshot wounds to his left arm and rib cage. ‘‘After they finished firing, they just drove off.’’
In addition to the five female teachers killed, a female health worker and a male health technician were shot dead, police said. The female health worker’s four-year-old son, who was in the van at the time of the attack, was not hurt.
Formed in 1991, Support With Working Solutions focuses on improving the lives of impoverished Pakistanis living in rural areas outside Swabi, a city of about 1.8 million roughly 80 kilometres northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.
The community centre where the victims worked is in the village of Sher Afzal Banda and includes a primary school for roughly 150 girls and boys and a healthcare clinic, said Shahid Khan, an official at the NGO.
‘‘Most of the children in this area were not going to school, so that’s why we established the community centre,’’ Mr Khan said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, suspicion is likely to fall on the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the October 9 attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old girl from the country’s troubled Swat Valley.
Last year, at least 96 schools were damaged or destroyed by militants, according to Human Rights Watch.
Mr Khan said Support With Working Solutions had never been threatened or targeted by militants in the past. The group’s leaders were meeting to decide whether to continue operating the community centre, he said.
Los Angeles Times