Four polio workers – including three women – were shot dead and three others wounded in a targeted attack on their vehicle in Eastern Bypass area near Quetta, Pakistan, on Wednesday morning.
“The team was on its way to the assigned union council after collecting polio vaccines in Killi Ahmzai area when armed men on motorbikes intercepted their vehicle on Link Road of Easter Bypass,” said an eyewitness, adding that masked men first shot the woman campaigner in front seat and then opened indiscriminate fire on other workers sitting in the back of the pickup.
The polio teams were carrying out an emergency campaign in the outskirts of Quetta and had informed New Saryab Police Station about it.
A senior police official at the police station said the polio workers started their vaccination campaign without waiting for security personnel – assigned for their safety – to arrive.
The attackers managed to flee from the scene after the deadly attack.
Medics at Civil hospital, Quetta said two bodies and five injured were brought in of whom two succumbed to their injuries soon after. “Three young women and a man were killed while three are injured,” the medics confirmed.
An injured woman said the driver fled the scene when the firing started, and the attackers managed to flee from the scene as well.
“Two bodies and five injured people were brought to the hospital, in which two were in critical condition who later succumbed to their injuries,” Dr Noor Baloch told The Express Tribune.
“Most of the victims, who were in their 20s, were shot in the head and chest in order to ensure their death on spot,” he said.
An injured woman, recounting the incident said, “As the man started firing, I cried for help but there was nobody. I fainted and found myself at the hospital when I opened my eyes.”
Police said the polio workers were attacked when they were on their way to the union council to start the campaign.
“They had not resumed their duties and were targeted when they were on their way to the assigned union council,” said SP Saryab Police Imran Qureshi.
The deceased – who were all volunteers and residents of Quetta — were identified as Hamida Khawaja Khail, Sania Bangulzai, Hameeda Bangulzai, Ijaz and the injured can be identified as Freeda, Sumera and Salma Ijaz.
The Balochistan government assigned two policemen to each polio team due to the prevailing security situation and threats to lives of anti-polio campaigners in the province.
Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, while speaking to Express News, said these attacks cannot dampen his government’s resolve to completely eradicate the crippling disease.
Condemning the deadly attack, the chief minister said the government will help the families of the deceased and those injured in these trying times.
Speaking about providing adequate security to polio workers, Baloch said the government is committed to ensure safe vaccination campaigns in Balochistan, however, the province is huge which makes matters difficult to manage.
This is the second attack on health workers in Quetta in 2014. Earlier, unidentified persons attacked a vehicle used by polio team with a hand grenade in Pashtunabad area, predominantly Afghan refugees’ settlement area. However, no one was hurt in the attack.
“It is the second incident in this area during the last two years. Law enforcing agencies have been directed to ensure the arrest of the culprits involved in this heinous crime,” Home Secretary Balochistan Akbar Durrani told The Express Tribune.
“The security lapse is being investigated,” Durrani said.
It is pertinent to mention here that at least 14 cases of the crippling virus were reported in Balochistan — 13 cases were detected in the Quetta zone which comprises Quetta, Qila Abdullah and Pishin.
In the last campaign there were around 10,000 refusal cases, and the health department said majority of them had been covered or the people had been persuaded to have polio drops administerered.
Polio workers face threats to their lives in Quetta while participating in door-to-door campaigns.
There have been no claims of responsibility for the attack.