ISLAMABAD — Gunmen on motorcycles sprayed a van carrying employees from a community center with bullets Tuesday, killing five female teachers and two aid workers, but sparing a child they took out of the vehicle before opening fire.
The director of the group that the seven worked for said he suspects it may have been the latest in a series of attacks targeting anti-polio efforts in Pakistan.
Some militants oppose the vaccination campaigns, accusing health workers of acting as spies for the U.S. and alleging the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.
Last month, nine people working on an anti-polio vaccination campaign were shot and killed. Four of those shootings were in the northwest, where Tuesday’s attack took place.
The attack was another reminder of the risks to women educators and aid workers from Islamic militants who oppose their work. It was in the same conservative province where militants shot and seriously wounded 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, an outspoken young activist for girls’ education, in October.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest shootings.
The teachers and health workers — one man and one woman — were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on their way home from a community center in the town of Swabi where they were employed at a medical clinic and primary school. Their driver was also injured.
Javed Akhtar, the director of Support With Working Solution, said the medical clinic vaccinated children against polio, and many of the NGO’s staff had taken part in immunization campaigns.
Militants in the province have blown up schools and killed female educators. They have also kidnapped and killed aid workers, viewing them as promoting a foreign, liberal agenda.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly called the Northwest Frontier province, borders the tribal areas of Pakistan along the frontier with Afghanistan to the west.
The injured driver in Swabi told investigators that the gunmen stopped the vehicle and removed a boy — the son of one of the women — before indiscriminately opening fire, police officer Fazal Malik said. The woman’s husband rushed to the scene after receiving a phone call alerting him to the shooting.
Swabi police chief Abdur Rasheed said most of the women killed were between the ages of 20 and 22. He said four gunmen on two motorcycles fled the scene and have not been apprehended.