Reports of Christian Aid Workers Killed by Taliban in Pakistan Still Unconfirmed

By Patrick Goodenough | September 2, 2010 | 4:35 AM EDT

Pakistani soldiers form a chain to unload sacks of grain from the back of a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter, destined to help flood victims in the town of Khyber, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on August 5, 2010 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Horace Murray)

( – Mystery surrounds reports that three Western Christian relief workers were kidnapped and killed by the Pakistan Taliban last week while helping people affected by the severe floods in the country’s northwest.
Despite claims that the recovered bodies of the three were taken by the Pakistani army to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, the embassy early Thursday categorically denied this.
The reported killings have also not been confirmed by the Pakistani government or army, and no aid agency has announced the deaths of staff members.
Neither has the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which frequently claims responsibility for terrorist attacks, done so in this case.
Last Thursday, the State Department confirmed that militants in Pakistan had threatened to target foreign aid workers as well as government ministries involved in the flood relief effort.
Around the same time, reports about the alleged killing began circulating on the Internet, attributed to a senior district official in the Swat valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and to unnamed Pakistani military sources.
Among the outlets reporting on the claims was the Christian news service Compass Direct (Aug. 27) and the Budapest-based BosNewsLife, another outlet focusing on religious persecution (Aug. 28). Most of the later claims appear to originate from those two sources.
Compass Direct cited the District Coordination Officer (DCO) of Swat, Atif-ur-Rehman, as saying the aid workers were returning to their base on the afternoon of August 23 when their vehicle came under TTP vehicle. Five or six people had been injured and three foreigners abducted.
Rehman said the army had recovered their bodies on August 25.
“Military sources who withheld news of the deaths from electronic and print media to avoid panicking other relief workers granted permission to Compass to publish it in limited form,” the Compass Direct report said.
It also quoted one Rizwan Paul, the head of a Pakistani Christian human rights advocacy group called Life for All, as saying the bodies had been sent to Islamabad under supervision of the Pakistani military.
The BosNewsLife report called the three “American Christian aid workers.” It cited an unnamed Pakistani military source as saying the bodies of the three had been taken to the U.S. Embassy. The source said the names of the victims and their organization had not been released so as “not to create panic” among other foreign aid workers.
Although BosNewsLife described the three as Americans, in another report, Rizwan Paul was quoted as saying that they were a Canadian and two Swedes, all men.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire said Thursday the claim that three bodies had been received by the embassy was “completely false.”
“To be clear, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad has not been notified of the kidnapping or murder of any American citizens, including relief workers,” he said in response to emailed queries.
The deputy head of mission at the Swedish Embassy, Jorgen Persson, said Thursday the embassy had also tried to verify the rumors, but “so far we have found no substance behind them.”
The Canadian high commission in Islamabad did not respond to queries by press time.
‘Trying to stop the news from getting out’
Contacted early Thursday, Rizwan Paul asserted that the story was true, although he made it clear that the claim about the U.S. Embassy came not from him but from a military source.
“Pakistan military and other sources are trying their best to stop the news from getting out,” he said.
Paul regarded as suspicious the fact that the State Department on Wednesday finally designated the TTP as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
Paul said a State Department official had visited Swat on Wednesday, and just hours later the State Department had announced the FTO designation.
“It is interesting to note that the Pakistani Taliban are responsible for the killing of the three humanitarian workers,” he said. “Don’t you find it strange that the Pakistani Taliban were not blacklisted earlier, but right after this visit all of a sudden they get blacklisted? All the military sources had confirmed that these Pakistani Taliban were involved in the killing.”
The State Department has for months been looking into adding the TTP to the terrorist list, having come under additional pressure from lawmakers to do so after the group claimed responsibility for the failed attempt to detonate a bomb at Times Square in New York City on May 1.
Wednesday’s actions by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton included FTO designation as well as listing as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under a post-9/11 executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists.
Entities and individuals designated under Executive Order 13224 have any assets they may have in the U.S. frozen, and Americans are barred from engaging in transactions with them.
Clinton also designated TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud and the group’s head in South Waziristan, Wali Ur Rehman, under 13224.
“TTP and al-Qaeda have a symbiotic relationship,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement. “TTP draws ideological guidance from al-Qaeda, while al-Qaeda relies on TTP for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
“This mutual cooperation gives TTP access to both al-Qaeda’s global terrorist network and the operational experience of its members. Given the proximity of the two groups and the nature of their relationship, TTP is a force multiplier for al-Qaeda.”
Neither the Pakistan military public relations office nor the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa responded to queries.

Also see:
Westerners Urged to Earmark Aid for Pakistan’s Marginalized Christians (2 Sept. 2010)
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow