HUNDREDS of villagers in north-western Pakistan turned out yesterday to bury five female teachers and two health workers, gunned down a day earlier by militants in the latest in a series of attacks targeting anti-polio efforts in the country.
The seven had worked at a community centre in the town of Swabi that included a primary school and a medical clinic that vaccinated children against polio. Some militants oppose the vaccination campaigns, accusing health workers of spying for the West and alleging the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.
As mourners carried the coffins through the town for burial, family and friends expressed horror at the attack.
“I told her many times at home ‘be careful as we are poor people and take care of yourself all the time,”’ said Fazal Dad, whose daughter was among the seven killed. “And always in response she said: ‘Father, if I am not guilty, no-one can harm me.”’
The group was on their way home from the community centre where they were employed by a charity when their vehicle was attacked on Tuesday. The four militants on motorcycles spared the young son of one of the women in the van, pulling him from the vehicle before spraying it with bullets. The driver survived and is being treated at a Peshawar hospital.
The director of the charity, Javed Akhtar, said the group has suspended its operations throughout the province.
Despite the killings, polio vaccination workers will be out in force this Saturday in four areas in the north-west in an effort to keep the disease from spreading. Police will provide extra security for workers taking part in the campaign in Peshawar, Nowshera, Charsadda and Mardan.