The Taliban stormed the office of a US aid group operating in northwestern Pakistan, killing six Pakistani employees.
Earlier today, armed fighters attacked an office operated by World Vision International, a Christian charity that has been aiding victims of the devastating earthquake in 2005. The aid group has sought to provide schooling, jobs, food, and other basic needs for Pakistanis impacted by the earthquake and other natural disasters.
Police fought a major battle with the heavily armed Taliban fighters, who entered the World Vision office in the town of Oghi in Mansehra district.
“Some armed people stormed the building of World Vision NGO,” Sajid Khan, a police official, told AFP. There was firing and also an explosion inside.” The Taliban fighters hurled hand grenades in the office, according to police.
Police said that five Pakistani employees were killed, including two women. But an unnamed aid worker present at the attack told AFP that six people were killed and six more were seriously wounded.
The Taliban have targeted aid groups in the region, claiming the groups are un-Islamic and are seeking to spread Christianity. In February 2008, in an attack that mirrored today’s strike against World Vision, the Taliban killed four members of Plan International, a British charity that seeks to promote the rights of children. Four members of the charity were killed when a dozen Taliban fighters stormed their office and opened fire.
Until recently, Mansehra has been spared the heavy violence that has plagued much of the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas. The Taliban carried out a suicide attack in Mansehra just 20 days ago, when suicide bombers targeted two police stations in the district. A police chief was killed in the attack.
The Mansehra Taliban are said to be led by Moman Khan, who previously claimed to have been commander of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi but has since said he no longer works with the group. Khan is said to have been behind recent threats and attacks against nongovernmental organizations in neighboring Abbottabad. The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is an anti-Shia terror group that has been co-opted by al Qaeda and has conducted numerous attacks inside Pakistan.
The Taliban entered Mansehra in force during the spring of 2009. In April 2009, Taliban fighters moved into the Mansehra region and established a base and a training camp. The move took place as the Pakistani military launched an offensive to depose the Taliban, led by Mullah Fazlullah, in the nearby Swat Valley. The military and police did not attempt to stop the Taliban’s move into Mansehra.
Since the spring of 2009, the Taliban have established bases in the districts of Shangla, Haripur, Battagram, Mardan, and Swabi. Taliban units ranging from 50 to 150 fighters fanned out through the districts, encountering no resistance from the military, which claimed it had established blocking positions to prevent the Taliban from retreating from the battlefield and bleeding into bordering districts.
There has been little effort to root out the Taliban in these districts. The military launched a limited operation in Swabi in the beginning of February; during that operation, the military killed three Taliban fighters.
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