Thursday’s attack on a Pakistani air base near Islamabad by heavily armed militants, which security forces were able to repel, has been followed by the news that gunmen executed about 20 Shiite Muslims today in northern Pakistan.
NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports from Islamabad that officials say the attackers stopped three minibuses en route to the city of Gilgit. Officials say they asked all the passengers to show their ID cards, then pulled only the Shiite Muslims off the buses and shot them execution-style.
The attack happened in a remote area made famous by the book Three Cups of Tea, about an American volunteer, Greg Mortenson, who built schools there. It’s a poor, rural region where sectarian attacks have happened before.
As Lauren adds, some Sunni Muslim extremists consider Shiites to be heretics, and have staged attacks on them in the past.
As for the attack at the air base, the BBC’s M. Ilyas Khan is there and reports that “the search is on for militants who may have escaped.” He also notes that “this is the third major attack in about as many years in which militants were able to breach security at a high value military installation.” The militants were reportedly armed with guns, grenade launchers and suicide vests.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper is now reporting that an arm of the Pakistan Taliban is claiming responsiblity for the air base attack, and that nine militants and one soldier were killed. It adds that “Taliban spokesman Ehsan claimed the militant organisation had carried out the attack ‘to avenge the deaths of Osama bin Laden, the TTP Amir Baitullah Mehsud and other fighters who had been killed by the Pakistani security forces.’ ”