PESHAWAR, Pakistan –- Eleven teachers who were taken hostage last week for administering polio vaccines to children were released by Pakistani militants early Tuesday.
The educators were working as volunteers and were delivering the drops in Sepah village of Khyber tribal region when they were seized at gunpoint on Thursday.
But they were freed following a meeting of a tribal Jirga -- or council, Pakistani security official Shafeerullah Khan Wazir told NBC News.
“The militants on the appeal of Jirga members released all the kidnapped teachers and handed them over to the Jirga,” he added.
The kidnappers were affiliated with Commander Mangal Bagh, a local official told NBC News last week. His Pakistani Taliban-affiliated group Lashkar-e-Islam largely controls the area.
Tribal administration official Ziarat Khan also confirmed the teachers' release to NBC News, adding that they were from the private Hira Public School and the first polio team to visit the area since 2009.
“This area has been out of reach of health department and polio teams due to fighting between Pakistani security forces and militants and a ban imposed by militants on polio campaign,” he said.
The World Health Organisation reported that 24 polio workers have been killed this year in the country.
A tribal elder who did not wish to be named due to fear of reprisals said the job of polio workers has become more dangerous after reports surfaced that Pakistani physician Dr Shakil Afridi ran a fake vaccination campaign to help CIA track down Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
He added that the militants released the abducted teachers on condition that the government would never send polio teams to their areas again because they consider vaccines as haram -- or un-Islamic.