Pakistan’s Taliban has claimed responsibility for downing a military helicopter in an incident that has left at least six people dead, including the Norwegian and Filipino envoys to the country.
The helicopter was one of three carrying a delegation of envoys to inspect projects on a three-day trip to Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan territory, where they were set to meet with prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Leif Larsen, the Norwegian envoy, and Domingo Lucenario Jr of the Philippines were killed along with the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, as well as the helicopter’s two pilots, according to official tweets by the army, who warned that casualties could rise.
Polish ambassador Andrzej Ananiczolish and Dutch ambassador Marcel de Vink were also injured, the army added.
In an Urdu-language statement emailed by their main spokesman, Muhammad Khorasani, the Taliban said Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was their target.
“The helicopter was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile, killing pilots and many foreign ambassadors,” the statement said.
It was not immediately possible to verify the claim, but the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan’s north where the chopper came down is not known as a stronghold for the militant organisation.
An earlier statement by Mr Sharif’s office had said his plane was en route to the Gilgit area at the time of the attack but turned back to Islamabad after news of the crash broke.
A senior local administration official warned the situation was “urgent” after the helicopter — one of three carrying the delegation, their aides and members of the press — crashed into a school with children inside.
Mr Sharif “expressed deep grief and sorrow” over the incident, according to a statement issued by his office.
According to a list of passengers obtained by AFP, the ambassadors of Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Romania, Norway, South Africa, the Philippines and Poland were scheduled to fly on the helicopter.
“It was a diplomatic trip with members of 37 countries in total,” said a passenger in one of the helicopters, who requested anonymity, adding that the school had caught fire after the crash.
The passenger added that the air convoy was supposed to have included four helicopters but the number was later reduced to three.
A senior local administrative official said: “We have been told to send in as many ambulances as we can because the situation there is ‘urgent'”.
The injured were being air lifted to a military hospital in Gilgit, the region’s administrative capital, some 50 kilometres to the south-west, added another senior local police official.
In the city of Gilgit, a hospital official said injured were being carried on stretchers to the emergency ward of the Combined Military Hospital.
Known for its spectacular mountain ranges and unique culture, Gilgit-Baltistan is a strategically important autonomous region that borders China, Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir.