ISLAMABAD -- Gunmen on motorcycles sprayed a van carrying employees from a community center with bullets yesterday, killing five female teachers and two aid workers, but sparing a child they took out of the vehicle before opening fire.
The director of the group that the seven worked for says he suspects it may have been the latest in a series of attacks targeting anti-polio efforts in Pakistan.
Some militants oppose the vaccination campaigns, accusing health workers of acting as spies for the United States and alleging the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile. Last month, nine people working on an anti-polio vaccination campaign were shot and killed.
The attack was another reminder of the risks to women educators and aid workers from Islamic militants who oppose their work. It was in the same conservative province where militants shot and seriously wounded 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, an outspoken activist for girls' education, in October.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest shootings.
The teachers and the two health workers -- a man and a woman -- were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on their way home from a community center in the town of Swabi, where they were employed at a medical clinic and primary school. Their driver also was injured.
Javed Akhtar, the director of Support With Working Solution, said the medical clinic vaccinated children against polio, and many of the NGO's staff had taken part in immunization campaigns.
Militants in the province have blown up schools and killed female educators. They also have kidnapped and killed aid workers, viewing them as promoting a foreign, liberal agenda.
The van's driver told investigators that the gunmen stopped the vehicle and removed a boy -- the son of one of the women -- before indiscriminately opening fire, said police officer Fazal Malik. The woman's husband rushed to the scene after receiving a phone call alerting him to the shooting.
"I left everything and rushed towards the spot. As I reached there I saw their dead bodies were inside the vehicle and he [his son] was sitting with someone," said Zain ul Hadi.
Swabi police Chief Abdur Rasheed said most of the women killed were 20 to 22 years old. He said four gunmen on two motorcycles fled the scene.
In a separate attack in the southern city of Karachi, officials said four people were killed and 41 injured when a bomb in a parked motorcycle exploded amid a group of buses for political workers.