By SALMAN MASOOD, ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (NY Times): In one of the most brazen attacks on foreigners in Pakistan for years, unidentified gunmen on Sunday killed nine foreign mountaineers and their Pakistani guide as they prepared to ascend one of the world’s most daunting peaks, the country’s interior minister said Sunday.
The dead included five Ukrainians and three Chinese, officials said. Their Pakistani guide was also killed in the attack. The nationality of the ninth tourist was unclear.
The attack occurred in far-flung Gilgit-Baltistan, a beautiful, mountainous part of northern Pakistan where attacks on foreigners have been rare in recent years, although there has been sporadic sectarian violence.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which he said was in retaliation for American drone strikes in the tribal belt.
The foreigners were part of a mountaineering expedition that planned to climb Nanga Parbat which, at 26,660 feet, is the world’s ninth highest mountain and Pakistan’s second highest peak.
Unidentified gunmen wearing police uniforms stormed into their camp around 1 a.m. Sunday morning, opening fire indiscriminately, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told Parliament on Sunday morning.
The gunmen escaped after the attack.
The Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said they belonged to a Taliban affiliate named Jundul Hafsa, and that the attack was a response to an American drone attack that killed the Taliban deputy leader, Wali ur-Rehman, on May 29.
Mr. Ehsan added that the Taliban sought to ‘’awaken’’ international opinion about the drone campaign, although it was unclear how attacks on Chinese and Ukrainian nationals was a response to an American action — except, perhaps, to increase pressure on the newly installed government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
In any event, the incident is likely to badly damage what remains of the country’s tourism sector. Until now, mountaineers were considered one of the few groups that remained impervious to the perceived perils of visiting Pakistan.
Drawn by the challenge of climbing some of the world’s most spectacular yet forbidding peaks, their greatest danger stemmed from the mountains themselves. The Pakistan Army has assisted in several daring high-altitude rescues of climbing expeditions that had gotten into trouble.
But Sunday’s unprecedented attack introduced a new element of risk that is likely to affect such expeditions, at least in the short term.
Mr. Khan, the interior minister, said the government had suspended the police chief and the chief secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan. He portrayed the attack as an attempt to disrupt Pakistan’s relations with other countries.
‘’It is not just an attack on tourists,’’ Mr. Khan said. ‘’It is an attack on Pakistan.’’
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the attack as ‘’a heinous crime’’ that appeared to be ‘’attempting to disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries.’’
A foreign ministry spokesman said that senior officials had called the ambassadors of China and Ukraine to express condolences on behalf of the government.
Mr. Sharif, the prime minister, condemned the attack and said his administration would make every effort to ensure Pakistan is safe for tourists.
Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Johannesburg, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad.
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