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Islamists believed to be behind killing of four women aid workers in northwest Pakistan

AT LEAST four women aid workers were shot dead today in a targeted attack in North Waziristan, a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, police officials have confirmed.

Shafiullah Gandapur said the area’s police force had launched a “search and strike” operation in a hunt for the perpetrators of the attack as violence continues to escalate in Pakistan’s north-west.

“This is a militancy-stricken district — the threat is here everywhere, and in tribal culture, women roaming freely is considered not acceptable,” the police chief said.

Those killed were from Pakistan’s Sabawoon charity, which provides training to women interested in running a business from home and gives them information about their rights.

Police said that those who carried out the attack were aware that the women were coming to the town of Mir Ali and had lain in waiting.

North Waziristan has been the home of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella of jihadist groups formed in 2007 with the aim of establishing an Islamist caliphate and overthrowing the Pakistani government. It imposed severe restrictions on the movements of women in areas under its control and humanitarian organisations were unable to access the area and banned from operating.

Military operations by the Pakistani armed forces had some impact and managed to limit TTP operations. Its leadership fled into Afghanistan, weakening its organisational capacity. But it has launched guerrilla-style attacks on security forces and civilians, with violence escalating recently as internally displaced people have begun to return to their homes after years in forced exile.

More than 58 people, including tribal leaders, security personnel and others, were killed last year, according to statistics, although the real figures may be much higher.

Last week a soldier and two people identified as “terrorists” were killed in an exchange of fire in North Waziristan district, a Pakistani military statement said.

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