At least five police officers responsible for protecting vaccinators against polio were killed Monday in the explosion of a bomb placed on their vehicle, in the northwest of Pakistan, we learned from administrative and police sources.

“A police truck carrying around 25 police officers responsible for the anti-polio campaign was targeted by an IED [improvised explosive device],” Anwar Ul-Haq, a senior administrative official of the Bajaur district.

According to this source, five police officers were killed and 21 injured. The death toll was confirmed by Kashif Zulfiqar, a senior police official in the district. The explosion took place in the Bajaur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, near the border with Afghanistan, a region where attacks have increased in recent months.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. But Islamist militants, notably those of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, have for years targeted polio vaccinators and the police officers ensuring their security.

Security deterioration

Vaccination against polio faces persistent suspicion in Pakistan, where conspiracy theories abound, notably that vaccines are part of a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children. Another of these theories claims that vaccines contain pork fat and are therefore prohibited for Muslims.

This distrust, fueled by ultraconservative clerics, increased after the organization of a false vaccination campaign by the CIA to find the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, killed in 2011 in Abbottabad (north).

Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world, along with Afghanistan, where polio remains endemic. In these two countries, vaccination teams are regularly targeted by Islamist militants.

Pakistan has been facing a deterioration in security for several months, particularly since the return to power of the Taliban in Kabul in August 2021, particularly in the border regions of Afghanistan. Islamabad believes that some of these attacks are planned on Afghan soil, where the attackers would have “sanctuaries”, which Kabul denies.