SWABI/KHYBER AGENCY  -  Muqaddam Khan and AHMAD NABI  -  Gunmen shot dead a polio worker and two policemen on duty to protect a polio vaccination team in two separate attacks in Swabi and Khyber Agency on Friday.

The shootings were the latest in a series of attacks by militants targeting polio teams following the imposition of an official ban by the Taliban last year, who see inoculation campaigns as a cover for espionage.

The first incident took place when two policemen riding a motorbike were attacked by at least four gunmen, who were also on the motorbikes, as they left Swabi town for Topi in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to perform their anti-polio vaccination campaign duty, said the police.

“The gunmen opened fire on the policemen. One of the policemen was killed on spot while second died in the hospital,” senior local police official Muhammad Sajjad Khan said, adding that the gunmen managed to flee after the attack.

The police pair was attacked on Swabi-Topi road in Gaziabad area. The cop who died on the spot was named Ijaz Ali and he hailed from Bachayi village. The other policeman, Iftikhar Ali from Kalu Khan area, was taken to Lady Reading Hospital of Peshawar but he succumbed to his injuries. A policeman who saw them said both were shot in head. No one claimed responsibility but the police officials said they believed Taliban carried out the attack.

It had been planned that the anti-polio campaign would not be conducted in all the four tehsils of the district the same day to provide maximum security to the polio teams. When contacted, a health officer told The Nation that campaign had already been completed in Swabi, Chota Lahor and Razaar, and Topi was the last tehsil where it commenced on Friday.

Despite the deaths, health workers and policemen continued the campaign. When contacted, district chief of Expanded Programme for Immunisation (EPI), Dr Yaqub said: “We have decided that the campaign would continue.” The two killed policemen were laid to rest in their respective ancestral graveyards with honour.

In a separate attack Friday, gunmen on motorbikes opened fire on a polio worker near his home in Ghundi area of Jamrud tehsil of the Khyber Agency, killing him on the spot. Victim Muhammad Yousuf, son of Sher khan, was standing at the corner of his street after vaccinating children in Jamrud when he was attacked, doctor Sameen Jan, a senior health official in Khyber said.

According to another report, the attackers called Yousaf out of his home and sprayed him with bullets. The unidentified killers managed to escape after the killing. The administration officials shifted the body to Jamrud hospital for autopsy and launched a search operation in the area. Sources said that 15 suspects arrested and 12 motorbikes were also impounded. No one claimed responsibility of the attack. Due to security reasons, the administration had already delayed the polio drive by 10 days in the Khyber tribal area where 19 polio positives had been detected this year.

The Friday deaths bring the toll of deaths of polio staffers and their security associates to at least 28 since the June 2012 ban. The attacks come despite a recent fatwa by a prominent Pakistani religious scholar and JUI-S chief, Maulana Samiul Haq, known as the “Father of the Taliban”, who urged parents to immunise their children against polio and other life-threatening diseases and said vaccinations were compliant with Sharia.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is still endemic, but efforts to stamp out the crippling disease have been hit by repeated attacks on health teams. Officials blame the violence and suspicions about the vaccine for a surge in cases. According to the World Health Organisation, Pakistan recorded 72 cases of polio this year compared to 58 in 2012.

India on Wednesday announced it would require citizens from Pakistan and other polio-affected nations travelling to India to take a mandatory polio vaccination at least six weeks prior to their departure.