Karachi: Foreign doctor, driver hit in attack on UN vehicle
KARACHI: A foreign doctor working for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and his local driver were wounded on Tuesday when two armed militants fired bullets at their vehicle in Karachi’s volatile Sohrab Goth neighbourhood, police said. Police suspect that the outlawed Tehreek–e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was behind the hit-and-run attack on the UN vehicle in which the WHO empolyed Ghanaian national Dr Dedo Foston, 32, and his Pakistani driver, Mehmood Ahmed, were wounded.
The attackers, riding a motorbike, targeted the UN vehicle at around 11.30am near the Mohammed Khan Junejo Colony. The police moved the victims to the private Aga Khan Hospital, where their condition was stabilised.
SDPO Iftikhar Ahmed Lodhi said that Dr Foston sustained a single bullet to his lower back, while his driver sustained several minor injuries.
Dr Foston is associated with the polio vaccination programme in Pakistan run by the WHO. The attack is seen as the latest in a string of blows to the polio vaccination drive in Pakistan — one of only three countries where the disease is still prevalent. The other two countries are Afghanistan and Nigeria.
The Taliban and their allies have long since declared a war on polio vaccination campaigns, and have taken to targeting officials involved in administrating vaccines to minors.
In a statement, the WHO confirmed that one of its staff members and one international consultant had been injured in the attack. “Both men were supporting the currently-ongoing polio National Immunisation Days (NIDs),” it said. “At this point, there is no evidence to suggest that this was a deliberate or targeted attack against polio eradication efforts or WHO. Incidents like these highlight the incredible bravery of the more than 200,000 mainly Pakistani volunteers who run every vaccination campaign. The vaccinators, social mobilisers and frontline staff are the heroes of this campaign,” the statement added.
Police said that the gunmen had first attempted to stop the vehicle, but when the driver tried to escape, they opened fire and later fled from the scene. The police recovered empty 9mm shells as well as a 30-bore pistol from the scene of the crime. The damaged vehicle was also taken into custody for further investigations, including forensic examination.
Dr Foston had arrived Pakistan a few weeks before the launch of the polio vaccination campaign. SDPO Lodhi said that the UN doctor had not informed the police about his visit to the area, thus neglecting the standard operating procedure for foreign nationals and especially UN employees. “All such foreigners are supposed to inform the police so that security arrangements can be made for them,” he added.
Police Superintendent Jan Mohammed of Gadap Division said that a search operation had been launched in Afghan Basti on credible information regarding the alleged presence of terrorists there. In the raid, the police arrested six suspects and seized a range of automatic weapons. He added that further investigations were underway.
AFP adds: UN World Health Organisation Spokeswoman Maryam Yunus told AFP on Tuesday, “A WHO vehicle was fired upon with gunshots. One international staff and one local driver were injured in the incident.” She added that the doctor from Ghana and the Pakistani driver had been transferred to a private hospital where their condition was stabilised. “They are out of danger,” she confirmed. She also revealed that the UN doctor had been travelling in an unmarked, white double-cabin pick-up.
Police Tuesday suggested that the doctor could have been targeted deliberately, because he had been working in the neighbourhood for about three months. “It could be related to the polio campaign, as there is resistance in the population against it. We are, however, still investigating the real motives,” Mohammad Sultan told AFP.
A health expert also interpreted the attack as a sign of an alarming trend. He said there had been threats and announcements in mosques branding the vaccine anti-Islam and blamed “a new wave of attacks on polio workers” on the CIA’s use of Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi to help find Bin Laden. “People suspect foreigners’ involvement in the programme and the fake campaign by Afridi has given further credence to the conspiracy theory,” he said.