ISLAMABAD Ten tourists preparing to climb a Himalayan peak in an idyllic region of Pakistan bordering China were killed at their hotel overnight in the country's worst attack on foreigners in five years.
The tourists and their local guide were shot by militants at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, a 26,600-foot-high mountain at the western end of the Himalayan mountains in Gilgit-Baltistan, a Pakistan-administered area of the Kashmir region.
Attaur Rehman, the home secretary in Gilgit-Baltistan, told the Associated Press on Sunday that the dead foreigners included three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two Chinese, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese and one Chinese American.
A Pakistani also died in the attack.
Matt Boland, the acting spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, confirmed to the Associated Press that an American citizen was among the dead, but could not say whether the individual was a dual Chinese national.
The attackers were dressed in uniforms of the Gilgit Scouts, the paramilitary security force of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Pakistan's interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, on Sunday criticized Pakistan's intelligence agencies for failing to prevent the attack, and fired the region's top police and security officials, as the country's parliament met in special session to pass a resolution condemning it.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is scheduled to visit China today, and while there plans to seal an agreement for the construction of a high-speed railway line through Gilgit-Baltistan to a Chinese port on Pakistan's Indian Ocean coast, near the mouth of the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
The envisioned railway line would be a feat of engineering that would exceed China's construction of a railway into Tibet, which has similar terrain.
Tourists were the major source of income for the region's scattered population of 1.4 million until the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks on the United States, and had started to return only this year. In May, several groups of foreign mountaineers arrived to climb the region's peaks, which include 20 of the world's highest.
The overnight attack was the first ever on tourists in the region, known as a haven from the terrorist violence that plagues the Pakistani hinterland, although it does suffer from frequent, if small, outbursts of violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims living there. Unlike the rest of Pakistan, where Sunnis are the vast majority, the population of Gilgit-Baltistan is split equally between Shiites, Ismaili followers of the Aga Khan and Sunnis.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the self-described Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. However, militants based in the area said the attack was planned by Alam Sher Afridi, a commander of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, an al-Qaida-associated group that was responsible for a June 15 suicide attack on a busload of female students in the western city of Quetta. The militants spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
They said attackers also included members of two groups, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen and Jaish-i-Mohammed, Pakistani militants linked both with al-Qaida and the Pakistani military's security agencies, which use them as interlocutors with insurgent militants. The two groups have secret training camps in Mansehra, which is connected by a high-altitude road from the south to the Nanga Parbat area, from where they send fighters to Afghanistan, the militants said.
Gilgit-Baltistan has been ruled by China, Tibet, Britain and the ruler of Kashmir, who chose to join India upon its independence in 1947. The Gilgit Scouts rebelled and the region's hereditary leaders joined Pakistan.
It is a region of snow-peaked mountains and glacial valleys located at the juncture of the Himalaya and Karakorum mountain ranges. The region's Hunza valley was the setting for Shangri-La in the book, "Lost Horizon," by James Hilton.
It is annually listed by National Geographic magazine as one of 50 places worldwide "to see before you die."