In a shocking nighttime raid, armed men posing as paramilitary officers executed ten foreign mountaineers and their guide in the Pakistani Himalayas. Zhang Jingchuan (张京川), an accomplished mountain climber from Yunnan, was the only person to survive the attack.
The alpinists were bivouacked at basecamp on Nanga Parbat — the ninth tallest mountain in the world — when the assault began. The gunmen arrived at the camp around 1am, posing as Gilgit Scouts and demanded to see the climbers' passports. When the mountaineers emerged from their quarters they were systematically shot down.
Of the 11 people killed, two were Chinese nationals, including Rao Jianfeng (饶剑峰) from Shenzhen. Earlier this year he won China's Golden Rhinoceros Award, given annually to the country's most accomplished outdoorsman.
Yang Chunfeng (杨春风) from Xinjiang was also killed. He was attempting to climb all 14 mountains in the world with elevations greater than 8,000 meters. Zhang, the third Chinese man in the climbing party, escaped the assault. Details on how Zhang managed to evade the gunmen have still not been made clear.
Zhang fled the scene and called an associate in Kunming, asking her to contact the Chinese embassy in Islamabad. Once the embassy had been notified, Pakistani soldiers were dispatched to basecamp via helicopter. There they discovered the murdered climbers and rescued Zhang — who had spent 12 hours in the mountains alone and without supplies.
After news of the the story broke in the Pakistani press, a militant Islamic organization claimed responsibility for the attacks. The group, Jundul Hafsa, which has ties to the Taliban, said in an statement the killings were retaliation for United States drone strikes inside Pakistan. As of this writing, Pakistani police have arrested 37 suspects believed to have links to the shootings.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry characterized the attack as an attempt to "disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries." The same statement said in part that Pakistan was doing everything possible to ensure the safety of foreigners inside its borders.
Foreign nationals from Nepal, Ukraine and the United States were also killed in the attacks. The mountaineers were attempting to summit the 8,126-meter mountain, considered one of the most technically challenging climbs in the world. They were resting for a day at basecamp, itself nearly 5,000 meters above sea level, before making the push for a final ascent.