Gunmen kill UN worker, guard in NW Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Gunmen killed a U.N. employee and a guard during a failed kidnap attempt at a refugee camp in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, officials said, a blow to humanitarian efforts to help civilians displaced by army offensives against the Taliban.

Also Thursday, a U.N. commission investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto arrived in Pakistan for the first time since opening its inquiry.

The attack on the U.N. worker took place early Thursday at the Kacha Garhi camp near Peshawar. Local police chief Ghayoor Afridi said the assailants tried to abduct the U.N. official and opened fire when he resisted.

The chief of the U.N. refugee agency in Pakistan, Guenet Guebre-Christos, identified the dead U.N. worker as Zill-e-Usman, a 59-year-old Pakistani in charge of the U.N.'s relief efforts at the camp. She said Usman had worked for the U.N. for nearly 30 years and was set to retire soon.

"He was quite an old hand and he was looking forward to his retirement," Guebre-Christos told The Associated Press. She strongly condemned the attack, calling it a "cowardly assassination."

The U.N. said in a statement a camp guard was also killed, while another guard and a local U.N. worker were wounded.

Some 2 million Pakistanis have been driven from their homes in northwest Pakistan because of military offensives against militants in the region — and many ended up in refugee camps. International organizations have stepped up humanitarian efforts, leaving them vulnerable to attack by militants or criminals.

Islam Khan, a guard at the Kacha Garhi camp, which the U.N. says is home to 16,000 refugees, said four men drove up to Usman's office in a blue car and went inside.

"Then I heard gunshots and the attackers came out and fled in their car," Khan said, adding that one of the assailants was bleeding.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack, and there was no claim of responsibility.

Guebre-Christos said she wasn't aware of any direct threats toward U.N. workers at the camp.

"We don't know who these people are who attacked or why they did it," she said.

Mahmood Shah, a former security chief for Pakistan's northwest tribal regions, said Thursday's attack sounded like the work of criminals rather than the Taliban because the militants had largely been driven from that area.

The number of kidnappings has soared in Pakistan in recent years, especially in the northwest. While many of the criminal gangs behind them are believed to be in it for their own gain, others are suspected of links to the Taliban, and kidnappings are believed to be an important source of funding for the militancy.

U.N. employees and foreigners have been the target of kidnappings and bombings several times in recent months.

Last month, there were U.N. employees among the 11 people killed in a suicide attack that devastated the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar.

Earlier this year, Taliban militants beheaded a Polish geologist, and suspected Baluch rebels kidnapped American U.N. refugee worker John Solecki and held him for about two months in southwest Pakistan before freeing him. His driver was shot dead.

Ryan Lucas reported from Islamabad, and Riaz Khan from Peshawar. Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon contributed to this report from Peshawar.

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