ISLAMABAD - Suspected Islamist militants in northwestern Pakistan Sunday killed four women working for a non-governmental welfare organization.
Police said the victims were traveling to work when their vehicle was ambushed in North Waziristan tribal district, a former militant sanctuary on the border with Afghanistan.
The district police office said the attack in the town of Mir Ali wounded the male driver, while a fifth women "luckily survived."
Pakistani security forces were said to be conducting a "search and strike" operation to capture the assailants.
The victims were said to be associated with the Sabawoon charity, which provides training to local women in making handicrafts to enable them to do business from their homes in the deeply conservative Pakistani region.
No one immediately took responsibility for the deadly shooting incident in the border area, which has lately experienced an upsurge in militant violence mostly targeting Pakistani security forces.
Human rights groups denounced the attack.
"The state must bring to book the perpetrators of this heinous crime. The re-emergence of terror groups in the area is a matter of grave concern," said the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
North Waziristan used to be a stronghold of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, an alliance of outlawed extremist groups, and militants linked to the al-Qaida terror network.
TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, has for years waged deadly attacks in the country, particularly in areas close to the Afghan border.
Pakistan says sustained military-led operations in recent years have cleared Waziristan and surrounding districts of militants, aside from isolated pockets.
Authorities say many TTP members and leaders have taken refuge in volatile Afghan border districts from where they orchestrate violence against Pakistani areas.
The United Nations said in a report earlier this month that TTP has "overseen a reunification of splinter groups that took place in Afghanistan and was moderated by al-Qaida."
Authorities in Afghanistan rejected the U.N. report, saying they were not allowing anyone to use their soil against other countries.