Islamabad, Pakistan – At least four female development workers have been killed in a targeted attack in the northwestern Pakistani district of North Waziristan, police say, the latest attack in an escalation of violence in an area that was once the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban.
The attack took place at 9:30am (04:30 GMT) on Monday near the village of Ippi, a few kilometres east of the town of Mir Ali, senior police official Shafiullah Gandapur told Al Jazeera by telephone.
The workers’ vehicle was fired upon by unidentified assailants who then fled the scene, he said. The driver of the vehicle was wounded and is being treated at a local hospital.
“This is a militancy-stricken district, the threat is here everywhere,” said Gandapur, when asked if there was a specific threat against development workers in the area.
“And in tribal culture, women roaming freely, it is considered not acceptable.”
North Waziristan was once the headquarters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban), an umbrella organisation of armed groups formed in 2007 to attempt to overthrow the Pakistani government and establish a form of governance in line with their strict interpretation of religion.
Under the TTP, women’s freedom of movement was severely curtailed in areas under their influence, and most development activities by non-governmental organisations were banned.
In 2014, after a series of military operations, the Pakistani military launched a fresh push against the TTP in North Waziristan, succeeding in displacing the group’s leadership into eastern Afghanistan and degrading its operational capacity on Pakistani soil.
Since then, violence has dropped significantly, although sporadic attacks by the TTP continue to target civilians and security forces alike.
Since last year, there has been a sharp uptick in targeted attacks in North Waziristan, as internally displaced people (IDPs) returned to their homes after years away.
The attacks killed more than 58 people, including tribal leaders, security forces personnel and others last year, according to a tally derived from local media reports.
On Friday, a soldier and two people identified as “terrorists” were killed in an exchange of fire in North Waziristan district, according to a military statement.
Police official Gandapur said the area’s police force had launched a “search and strike” operation following Monday’s attack, and had cordoned off the area.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim