Sectarian gunmen ambushed a bus yesterday, killing 18 Shiite Muslims in a usually peaceful region of northern Pakistan that neighbors the former Taliban stronghold of Swat, officials said.
The bus was stopped, before passengers were ordered off and shot in the mountainous district of Kohistan as it traveled from Rawalpindi, the city where Pakistan’s army is headquartered, to the northern city of Gilgit.
“Armed men hiding on both sides of the road attacked the bus,” local police chief Mohammad Ilyas said.
“Eighteen people have died and eight wounded,” he added.
The ambush happened near the town of Harban, 208km north of the capital, Islamabad.
Survivors said seven or eight gunmen stopped the bus, forced the passengers to get off and then opened fire, regional administration chief Khalid Omarzai said by telephone, confirming the casualty numbers.
“It appears to be a sectarian attack,” local member of parliament Abdul Sattar Khan said.
“Its a remote area. We are getting reports that the gunmen forced people to get off the bus. They checked their papers and shot them dead,” he said, adding the victims were Shiite Muslims.
“It could be the outcome of the murder of two Sunni Muslims a few days ago in Gilgit. The people of the area had vowed they would take revenge,” Khan added.
Human rights groups have heavily criticized the Pakistani government for failing to crackdown on sectarian violence between the country’s majority Sunni and minority Shiite communities that has killed thousands.
Authorities were slow to confirm the motive and insisted Islamist militants are not active in the area.