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Pakistan suspends expeditions after tourist massacre

25 June, 2013

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday suspended expeditions on its second-highest peak and evacuated climbers after gunmen shot dead 10 foreign trekkers, braced for the collapse of its tourist industry.

Attackers dressed in scout uniforms stormed a base camp at the foot of Nanga Parbat late Saturday, shooting dead the climbers and a Pakistani guide at point-blank range, officials said. The victims have been identified as an American with dual Chinese citizenship, three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two others from China, a Lithuanian and a climber from Nepal.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the group had set up a new faction, Junoodul Hifsa, to kill foreigners to avenge US drone strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda operatives.

It was the worst attack on foreigners for a decade in Pakistan and an unprecedented attack on mountaineers drawn to the intrepid climbing of the north, which until Saturday's shootings was considered immune from militancy plaguing other areas.

It is a major blow to foreign trekking expeditions, which provide the last vestige of international tourism in the country.

Pakistan Association of Tour Operators General Secretary Naiknam Karim said the killings were a "disaster" for Gilgit-Baltistan, where tourism is the main source of income.

"It will destroy tourism in our area," he told AFP, saying that he had already received a slew of cancellations by email and telephone.

Before the 9/11 attacks, more than 20,000 foreign tourists, climbers and trekkers used to visit Gilgit-Baltistan each year, but the number has since fallen to around 5,000, he said.

An average non-trekking tourist spends $3,000 in the area of stunning natural beauty, but trekkers sink $8-10,000 into the local economy, staying for longer as well as hiring guides and porters, Karim said.

"We used to be able to convince foreign tourists that there was peace in Gilgit-Baltistan but this incident has ruined everything," he told AFP.

"It will also badly affect domestic tourism... The Pakistani government has to take steps to re-build the trust otherwise this last industry will be ruined," he added.

The Alpine Club of Pakistan said around 40 remaining climbers on Nanga Parbat have been airlifted to the city of Gilgit with the peak now unsafe for trekkers.

"We are really shocked, traumatised and full of anger. Pakistan is known among the mountaineering community. It was a brutal massacre. These people were killed for no reason," said club president Manzoor Hussain.

He said there would be no further expeditions on Nanga Parbat this summer and that requests for winter climbs would be subject to a security review. "This season is over," Hussain said.

43 tourists evacuated; 37 suspects rounded up

Around 43 climbers, which included nineteen foreigners and 24 locals, were evacuated from Nanga Parbat by helicopters, while 37 suspects have been arrested.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to ensure arrest of the terrorists behind the killings of the foreign tourists on the towering mountain. He issued the directives at the federal cabinet meeting on Monday.

The cabinet had put aside its scheduled agenda and focused on Nanga Parbat killings and termed it a national tragedy.

Also, China on Monday vehemently condemned the murder of three of its citizens in the attack. The Chinese embassy issued a statement condemning the attack and calling for Pakistan to "severely punish" the perpetrators besides ensuring the safety of Chinese citizens.

End.

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