Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Gunmen target 16 Shiite Muslims

Gilgit-bound passengers wait for a bus in Islamabad, Pakistan, after gunmen killed 16 passengers (AP)

Gunmen wearing military uniforms stopped a convoy of buses in northern Pakistan, ordered selected passengers to get off and then killed 16 of them in an apparent sectarian attack, police have said.

The victims were Shiite Muslims, a minority in Pakistan that is frequently targeted by extremists from the majority Sunni community, said lawmaker Abdul Sattar. The gunmen spared several dozen other people in the four-bus convoy. A spokesman for a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, a Sunni militant group, claimed responsibility for the killings.

The incident in the remote Kohistan region was the latest in a spasm of violence in the country in recent weeks that has demonstrated the resilience of militant networks, including al Qaida-allied groups.

The US has tried to support Pakistani security forces in the fight against the extremists, but relations between the two nations are strained, hampering cooperation.

The attack took place in the mountainous village of Harban Nala, which is 211 miles north of the capital Islamabad. The area, part of the famed Silk Road linking northern Pakistan to China, is populated by Sunni tribes.

Police officer Mohammad Azhar said the buses were travelling from Rawalpindi city to Gilgit when the gunmen attacked.

Mr Sattar said eight gunmen were involved in the ambush, and all were wearing military uniforms, presumably to make it easier to stop the buses. He said the attackers ordered the passengers to produce their identity cards before ordering the 16 off and shooting them.

Mr Sattar and Sher Khan, an official at the Rawalpindi bus station, said fear of attacks on travellers had increased after an incident last month in which an unknown number of Sunnis were killed in the Gilgit region. Mr Khan said buses have since been travelling in convoys as a security measure.

The Jandullah faction of the Pakistani Taliban - one of the country's deadliest and best organised militant groups - claimed responsibility.

"They were Shiite infidels and our mujahedeen shot them dead one by one after bringing them down from a bus," said Ahmed Marwat, a purported commander, who spoke from an undisclosed location.

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