The night-time raid – which killed five Ukrainians, three Chinese and a Russian – was among the worst attacks on foreigners in Pakistan in a decade and underscored the growing reach of militants in a highland region once considered secure. Police said a 15-strong team of attackers wearing uniforms used by a local paramilitary force arrived at about 1am at a group of tents and ramshackle huts used by hikers scaling the flanks of the snow-covered 8,125-metre Nanga Parbat peak.
As the killing spree began, the intruders shot dead a Pakistani guard with the tourists and held other workers at gunpoint. A Chinese climber managed to escape.
“The gunmen held the staff hostage and then started killing foreign tourists and made their escape,” a source said.
The shootings, which followed several deadly bombings in different parts of Pakistan in the past week, pose a fresh challenge for the new government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told parliament he had sacked Gilgit-Baltistan’s police chief and another senior provincial official, an unusual step in Pakistan where senior officials are rarely held accountable for lapses in security.
The move did little to silence questions from critics who asked how gunmen could have slipped past security forces at checkpoints meant to scrutinise visitors to the sensitive mountain region bordering the disputed territory of Kashmir.
There were conflicting claims of responsibility for the attack. A Pakistani militant group known as Jundullah was the first to say it was behind the raid.
“These foreigners are our enemies and we proudly claim responsibility for killing them, and will continue such attacks in the future,” Jundullah spokesman Ahmed Marwat said by telephone.
Later, Pakistan’s Taleban movement, which has its centre of gravity closer to the Afghan border, said it had shot the trekkers in retaliation for a US drone strike in May that killed its second in command, Wali-ur-Rehman.
“We wanted to seek revenge for the killing of our leader in the drone attack,” said Taleban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. “Our attacks on foreigners will continue to protest drone strikes.”
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the competing claims. Jundullah and the much larger Pakistani Taleban are among loosely aligned militant groups that frequently share personnel, tactics and agendas. Claims for specific incidents are often hard to verify.
Recent attacks by Pakistani militant groups have tended to focus on security forces and religious minorities, particularly Shiites, but foreigners have also been targets in the past.