KARACHI - Taliban gunmen Wednesday killed seven policemen in Karachi, three of them guarding medical workers administering polio vaccinations.

While militants have on numerous occasions attacked teams trying to eradicate the crippling childhood disease across the country, a police chief said his men were target this time, not the health workers.

The policemen were killed in two attacks in city’s western Orangi Town which took place within 600 metres of each other near a market, a senior police official said.

“One took place (in Bangla Bazaar area) at the three policemen who were escorting a polio team, the policemen were on foot when they were attacked,” said the official, Ali Asif. “In the second incident, four policemen in a police van were targeted (a couple of streets away near Disco Morr).”

Witnesses said that victim cops who were on mobile van were looking for lunch and they had parked the vehicle outside an eatery when militants targeted them. They said two cops were standing outside the van while the remaining two were sitting in the front seats of the vehicle.

The interior of the police van was heavily soaked with blood, with an officer’s cap lying on the front seat. Pakistan Bazaar SHO Sarfaraz Alyana said that the police mobile of Muhafiz Force had no link with the duty of the polio teams.

Minutes after this attack, the same culprits however targeted the policemen guarding anti-polio workers around 500 meters away, Alyana said.

Feroz Shah, a senior police official said that eight gunmen, on four motorbikes, carried out the killings. Abdul Kareem, an official in Abbasi Shaheed Hospital where the bodies were taken, also confirmed the casualties.

The polio workers, who remained unharmed in the second attack on cops, were on the third day of an immunisation drive. Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal said the vaccination campaign was temporarily halted in Orangi Town following the attacks.

Sindh police chief Allah Dino Khwaja said the vaccination workers were not the target of the gunmen. “The target was purely the police,” he said while visiting the crime scene.

The slain policemen were identified as Rustam Khan, Mohammad Ismail, Gul Khan, Wazir, Ghulam Rasool, Ghazi Khan and Daimud Din. Officials said the three policemen guarding the polio teams were from Shahdadkot police training centre and were called to perform security duty for the polio workers.

Speaking to the media, the police chief announced half a million rupees reward for the arrest of the gunmen, as well as 2 million rupees compensation to each of the victims’ families. He also promised jobs for two members of each grieving family.

Rangers DG Major General Bilal Akbar, who also visited the crime scene, said, “All polio workers in the city would be provided protection while the attackers would be caught soon. Sacrifices of the martyred police personnel would not go in vain.”

A faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility. Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesperson for Jamat ul Ahrar, in an email said, “This attack is continuation of the attacks on security forces and police which will continue,” he warned.

Another Taliban spokesman, Qari Saifullah Saif, also claimed responsibility, saying eight members carried out the attacks in revenge for the alleged killing of their colleagues by police in Karachi.

Police sources said the targeted policemen could not fire even a single bullet in retaliation showing that the attackers were highly trained and attacks was carried out with lightening speed. Witnesses said that none of the cops was wearing bullet proof jacket at the time of the attacks.

Following the attack, heavy contingents of law enforcers including police and rangers reached the area and apprehended nearly half a dozen suspects.

The police recovered at least nine empty shells of the 9mm pistols and sent them to the forensic division for ballistics cross matching. The forensic division in their initial report revealed that the weapons had been used in at least 17 cases of target killing in district west alone since 2014.

A CCTV camera installed at the attacked police mobile van was not functioning. The investigators got footage from some CCTV cameras installed at nearby shops but that too was of poor quality. Police sources said that militant took a Sub Machine Gun (SMG) from police mobile and threw the rifle away from the crime scene.