By BosNewsLife Asia Service reporting from Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Suspected Islamic militants have killed three American Christian aid workers who were helping victims of Pakistan's worst floods in recent memory, a well-informed source in the Pakistani military told BosNewsLife Saturday, August 28.
The source spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the exact details surrounding the killings in the country's volatile north-western Swat valley. He said Pakistan's military recovered the bodies of the relief workers in Swat valley Wednesday, August 25, shortly after they were kidnapped. The human remains were brought to the United States embassy, he said.
The names of the victims and their organization have not yet been released publicly due to security concerns and "not to create panic" among foreign aid workers, the source added. Additionally, under standard procedures, close relatives were expected to be informed first about the victims' identities. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad refused to confirm or deny the report, saying it had no more information.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the killings, but the Taliban threatened to attack international relief workers, calling the presence of foreigners in Pakistan "unacceptable."
A senior Pakistani official confirmed to BosNewsLife that the three foreign aid workers had been kidnapped by the hard-line Islamic group Monday, August 23.
"The foreign aid workers had been working in [the city of] Mingora and the surrounding areas. While they were returning to their base on August 23 fighters of the Taliban attacked their vehicle," said Swat District Coordination Officer Atif-ur-Rehman. "They injured around five or six people and kidnapped three foreign humanitarian workers," he added.
The reported killings of the aid-workers is aimed to further undermine efforts by the international community to reach the estimated nearly 22 million people affected by the flooding, suggested government official Rehman. "The Taliban are also trying to support the flood victims and many other banned organizations have setup camps in for instance the south of Punjab province to support the victims. They use aid to increase support for their goals," he said.
There is some precedent in attacks against foreign aid workers. Pakistani Taliban carried out a suicide attack against the office of the United Nations World Food Program in Islamabad last October, killing five staffers, and in March, militants stormed the offices of World Vision, a U.S.-based Christian aid group helping earthquake survivors in northwestern Pakistan, killing six Pakistani employees.
Special forces have been deployed in Swat valley and other potential target areas to protect relief efforts, the military said.
However many people, including minority Christians, receive little or no aid from Pakistani authorities or other groups, complained Rizwan Paul, who leads the Christian aid and advocacy organization Life for All. "In Punjab province the Christians are ignored in the severely damaged areas. Christians even face problems in United Nations-administered camps."
He said there are reports that Christians are not given tents, clean water and food. "In most of the camps the Christians have totally been ignored. In some regions, including Muzzaffargarh and Layyah, Christians are forced to live on damaged roads in temporary tents as they were not allowed in the government camps."
He said Life for All had complained to United Nations agencies about the alleged discrimination of Christians in the aid distribution. "So far they have not yet responded." Additionally, authorities have been reluctant to help Christians evacuate, he claimed. "In Sindh Province, where the Thatta area was flooded, around 300 Christian families were prevented from moving to more safe areas in Punjab province." Officials in charge of the operation could not immediately be reached for comment.
Another Christian advocacy group, Peace Pakistan , also warned that the Muslim observation of the fasting period Ramadan makes it more difficult to reach many children, the elderly and sick people with medicines, water or food.
"They are now allowed to eat or drink anything all day. However those leading the relief camps should take under consideration that these weak people should be given water, food and medicines on time as many diseases are spreading at a vast scale," the group said in a statement.
There are worries about additional flooding as meteorologists predict more rains the coming days at a time when about 20 percent of the country is already under water.
Yet, Life for All Vice President Kashif Mazhar suggested there was some hope beneath the dark clouds in the relative few Christian-run relief camps.
"In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province the situation is comparatively better as there are Christian camps as well and the local Garrison Church in the Risalpur area is also supporting the victims," he explained. "It is encouraging to see that Christian organizations are wholeheartedly supporting the victims regardless of the religion or race..."
Christians comprise less than five percent of the heavily Muslim population of nearly 175 million people, according to estimates by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (With BosNewsLife Correspondents in Pakistan and editing by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos. Due to security concerns BosNewsLife's reporters could not be identified by name).