- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 1, 2013

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Gunmen in northwest Pakistan killed five female teachers and two aid workers Tuesday as they were driving home from work. The group’s director said they may have been targeted for their anti-polio work.

Terrorists in the past have accused health workers of acting as spies for the United States, alleging the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile. Last month, nine people working on an anti-polio vaccination campaign were shot and killed. Four of those shootings were in the northwest where Tuesday’s attack took place.

The attack was another reminder of the risks to female educators and aid workers from Islamic militants who oppose their work. It was in the same conservative province where terrorists shot and seriously wounded 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, an outspoken young activist for girls’ education, in October.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest shootings.

In a separate attack in the southern city of Karachi, also likely to have been carried out by militants, four people were killed and dozens injured when a bomb went off just as a large political rally was dispersing.

The teachers and aid workers in the northwest were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on their way home from a community center where they worked at a medical clinic and primary school.

The director of the group targeted Tuesday said he suspected that the workers were attacked because the non-governmental organization has been active in vaccination campaigns designed to wipe out polio.

Javed Akhtar, from Support With Working Solutions, said the clinic where the aid workers worked had helped vaccinate children, and many of the staff had taken part in vaccination campaigns.

That attack was in an area where Islamic terrorists often target female teachers and women and girls trying to get an education.

The teachers were killed along with two health workers, one man and one woman. Their driver was wounded. They were on their way home from a community center in the town of Swabi where they were working at a primary school for girls and adjoining medical center.

The injured driver told investigators that the gunmen stopped the vehicle and removed a boy — the son of one of the women — before indiscriminately opening fire, said police officer Fazal Malik.

Swabi police chief Abdur Rasheed said most of the women killed were between the ages of 20 and 22. He said four gunmen who used two motorcycles fled the scene and have not been apprehended.

Militants in the province have blown up schools and killed female educators. They have also kidnapped and killed aid workers, viewing them as promoting a foreign agenda.