By Saud Mehsud
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen shot dead four women aid workers in their vehicle in northwest Pakistan on Monday, police said, underlining a rise in militant violence in the region.
The women worked for an NGO that trained other women, said Shafiullah Gandapur, the police chief in North Waziristan, part of the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which has long been home to Islamist militants.
"The women have been targeted and killed by the terrorists," Gandapur said. "It is too early to say who or what group could be involved."
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but women have long been a target of Islamist militants who oppose their education or going out to work.
The Pakistani Taliban shot and critically wounded teenager Malala Yousafzai in 2012 for advocating girls' education in a northern district under the militants' control.
In 2014, Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She became a global symbol of the resilience of women in the face of oppression.
Monday's shooting came amid a rise in militant violence in the region that once served as headquarters of local and Afghan Taliban groups besides foreign al-Qaeda linked Islamists.
There has been a sharp rise in attacks since late last year when the Pakistani Taliban brought two splinter groups back into their fold.
A U.S.-designated terrorist group, the Pakistani Taliban have been in disarray in recent years after the army conducted several operations in the region and American drone strikes killed its top leaders on both sides of the border.
The area was going through a transitional phase from military campaigns to a transfer to civilian authorities, army spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar said.
"Border regions have their own dynamics and we should understand them," he told reporters. "These are tribal districts, and they have their own culture, it will take time to be absorbed (into settled areas) to be normalized. What
we need to do is to stay the course."
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Additional Reporting by Umar Farooq in Islamabad; Editing by Nick Macfie)