At least 18 people were killed Tuesday in a suspected sectarian attack in Pakistan when gunmen dressed in army uniforms stopped a bus, ordered the passengers to get down and opened fire at them. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have condemned the attack.
The pre-dawn attack took place in Kohistan district in the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, reported the Geo News. Eight other passengers were injured in the attack.
The gunmen were hiding by the roadside and sprang out when the bus came.
Citing state-run Urdu TV channel PTV, Xinhua reported that there were at least eight militants.
Witnesses said the militants forced all the passengers on board to get out at gunpoint and started shooting at them indiscriminately.
The bus was carrying 25 passengers from Gilgit to Rawalpindi. It was stopped on the Karakoram highway in Harban area of Kohistan, a mountainous area around 160 km north of the capital Islamabad.
The motive was unclear as Islamist militants are not active in the area, police said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Armed men hiding on both sides of the road attacked the bus. Initial reports said 18 people have died and seven were wounded,” police official Mohammad Ilyas said.
Some media reports said the bus had 39 people on board.
All the injured were taken to hospitals in Kohistan and Gilgit. Hospital sources said the condition of seven people was critical.
Local people said it could be a sectarian attack as many residents in Gilgit and surrounding areas were minority Shia Muslims. They are in constant clashes with the Sunni Muslims.
Earlier this month, a Sunni Muslim leader was killed in Gilgit. Witnesses said Tuesday’s attack in Kohistan could be in retaliation by Sunni Muslims.
Zardari condemned the firing on the bus, and expressed grief over the loss of lives. He also ordered an inquiry into the incident.
The president directed the relevant authorities to maintain peace and order in the area, Online news agency reported.
Gilani vowed to bring the culprits to justice.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik constituted an investigation team to probe the incident. The team would comprise the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and police.
The investigation team would submit its report within three days to the interior ministry, a ministry spokesperson said.