Karachi: At least seven policemen were shot dead by motorcycle-borne unidentified gunmen in two brazen attacks during an anti-polio campaign in this Pakistani port city, forcing the suspension of vaccination drive.
Four policemen were killed while escorting the polio vaccine team in Orangi. Three others were shot dead in another part of the area, Inspector-General Sindh A D Khawaja told reporters.
“They were eight assailants on four motorcycles who first attacked a police mobile in which four policemen were on duty,” he said.
“While fleeing after the target killings they also shot at three other policemen,” he said.
“The killers apparently were targeting the policemen and not the polio workers who were present at the scene of the first attack during the polio immunisation drive that began today,” he said.
The anti-polio campaign in the area was suspended immediately and heavy contingents of law enforcement agencies, including paramilitary Rangers, cordoned off the area.
Khawaja said polio drops would be “administered to our children at all costs” and said security for polio teams would be increased.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack. “They laid down their lives to secure the country’s future,” he said.
Polio workers have long been targeted in the country by Islamist groups including the Taliban militants which claim that the polio immunisation drive is a front for espionage or a conspiracy to sterilise Muslims.
In January, at least 15 people, including 12 policemen and a paramilitary soldier, were killed in a suicide bombing targeting polio workers in Quetta.
Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic. Children in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Areas cannot be vaccinated as the outlawed Taliban has banned the campaigns since June 2012.