Two envoys die as Taliban claims it shot down 'copter
Taliban terrorists yesterday claimed responsibility for the crash of a Pakistan Army helicopter in which two foreign ambassadors were among seven killed.
The group said one of its special forces units had shot it down in an attempt to assassinate the country's prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was travelling in another aircraft at the time.
"We were planning to target [prime minister] Nawaz Sharif but we missed him. TTP [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan] used an anti-aircraft gun and shot down the MI-17 helicopter which killed the pilots and several foreign ambassadors," said Mohammad Khorasani, a Taliban spokesman, in a statement released shortly after the incident.
However, a Pakistan Army spokesman denied the claim and said the helicopter had crashed because of technical problems as it attempted an emergency landing in Gilgit-Baltistan, in the country's mountainous north.
Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa said that "two helicopters landed safely while the third developed a technical fault while landing".
Major Gen Bajwa said in Twitter posts that initial information indicated the cause was a technical fault.
The foreign secretary also said technical problems caused the crash.
"Apparently its engine failed," Azaz Chaudhry, the foreign secretary, said. "It was not terrorism."
The MI-17 helicopter was one of four flying more than 30 diplomats and their wives and the prime minister on a three-day excursion to the Naltar resort when it was forced to make a crash landing at a school, he said.
Leif H Larsen and Domingo D Lucenario Jr, the Norwegian and Philippines' ambassadors respectively, and the wives of their Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts were killed along with the two pilots. The Dutch and Polish ambassadors were injured in the crash.
Five other ambassadors are believed to have been on the helicopter.
Philip Barton, Britain's High Commissioner, may have had a lucky escape.
He had also been invited to join Pakistan's prime minister for a three-day excursion for the opening of a ski resort but declined in favour of hosting a British general election breakfast in Islamabad.
A witness travelling in the helicopter immediately behind the one which crashed suggested strong winds may have been a factor.
"I saw the helicopter crash below us. There was a huge fire. We flew over it and then were informed that we have to return.
"From what I have gathered talking to eye witnesses, there were heavy winds that led to the helicopter going out of control", said Maha Musaddaq, a Pakistani journalist covering the visit for the 'Express-Tribune'.
Mr Sharif described the incident as "tragic news", while Mr Barton said he was "deeply shocked" and offered his condolences to "the families, friends and colleagues of all those who lost their lives".
The crash and the Taliban claims are a setback for the Pakistan government, which is anxious to revive the ski resort as an action holiday destination. (© Daily Telegraph, London)