7 police officers killed while protecting vaccination workers in Pakistan

Pakistani security personnel gather around a police van after an attack by gunmen on security members guarding a polio vaccination team in Karachi on April 20, 2016.

Story highlights

  • Police killed in drive-by shootings
  • The officers were killed in two incidents, police say
  • Pakistan Taliban offshoot claim responsibility for the killings

(CNN)Seven police officers were killed while protecting health workers who were vaccinating children against polio in the Pakistani city of Karachi, authorities said.

Eight militants on four motorcycles opened fire on officers who had stopped for food and then shot at a convoy protecting the health workers, police inspector general Feroz Shah said.
    Speaking at a news conference, Ad Khawaja, the police chief for Sindh Province, said authorities had identified the group responsible for the twin attacks.
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    Shell casings found at the two crime scenes matched those from previous attacks.
    Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif released a statement condemning the attacks.
    "(The officers) sacrificed their today for securing the future of our coming generations," he said.
    "The entire nation will fight against these cowards with unity and unshattered resolve."
    Meanwhile, Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), claimed responsibility for the attack.
    "Our attacks against security agencies and officials will continue and the Karachi attack was a continuation of this struggle to implement Islamic government in Pakistan," he said in a statement.
    Pakistani relatives look at the coffin of a policeman who was killed with other colleagues in an attack by gunmen during his funeral in Karachi on April 20, 2016.

    Previous attacks

    TTP-JA also claimed responsibility for an attack on a Lahore park last month.
    Polio workers in Pakistan have been targeted by Islamist militants before. In January, 14 people, including 13 police officers and a paramilitary trooper were killed and 25 others injured when a suicide bomber attacked a government-run polio drive in Quetta.
    Militants have targeted anti-polio campaigns in Pakistan for decades in an effort to beat back government influence, CNN's Nic Robertson said following that attack. Pakistan remains one of two countries -- the other one is Afghanistan -- where polio is endemic, according to the World Health Organization.
    In 2011, U.S. intelligence officials used a vaccination program to help in their hunt for Osama bin Laden. Under cover of the program, the CIA sought to collect DNA samples from relatives of the al Qaeda leader to verify his presence in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
    The revelation of the CIA scheme reinforced the militants' existing fear of vaccinations.