QUETTA: Paramedics carry slain migrant laborer's coffins at a hospital in Quetta on April 13, 2024, after they were killed by gunmen in a suspected separatist raid. — AFP
QUETTA: Paramedics carry slain migrant laborer's coffins at a hospital in Quetta on April 13, 2024, after they were killed by gunmen in a suspected separatist raid. — AFP
Raid by suspected separatist militants kills 11 in Pakistan

QUETTA: Gunmen killed 11 people in southwest Pakistan, officials said Saturday, with police searching for suspected separatist militants after migrant laborers were singled out for execution. Police said six gunmen stopped a bus near the city of Naushki in Balochistan province around 8:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Friday and checked ID cards, abducting nine workers from the eastern region of Punjab. Their bodies were later found two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the highway having been “fired upon at point blank range”, senior local police officer Allah Bakhsh told AFP.

The same attackers later fired at a car belonging to a provincial parliamentarian, Bakhsh said. The lawmaker was not in the vehicle, but two people were killed when the car careened into a ditch. Bakhsh said a manhunt was underway and gunmen “clearly used the modus operandi of Baloch separatists”, who have waged a decades-long insurgency targeting security forces and outside influence in the region.

Witness Tahir Hussain — who was travelling with the larger group of victims — told AFP “a group of gunmen blockaded the highway, forcing the bus to stop”. “They asked which one of us were Punjabi,” the 50-year-old said. “Those who were accompanying families were spared.” “They took the others with them at gunpoint,” he added. “After a while, we heard gunshots from a distance.”

Senior Naushki district administration official Habibullah Musakhail told AFP that “police and paramilitary forces started combing the area for the arrest of the attackers”. “But the attackers have managed to flee the area this time,” he said, also confirming the death toll.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but poorest province, despite an abundance of natural resources. Militants have in the past targeted ethnic Punjabis and Sindhis from elsewhere in Pakistan, as well as foreign energy firms they believe are exploiting the region without sharing its riches.

Punjabis are the largest ethnic group in Pakistan, and are perceived to dominate the ranks of the military locked in a battle to quash Balochistan’s armed factions. Witness Zahid Imran, 46, told AFP that when gunmen boarded the bus they berated the abducted travelers, saying: “You Punjabis kill our children, get up and come with us.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif described Friday night’s attack as an “incident of terrorism” in a statement and said “facilitators will be punished”. In October last year, gunmen killed six Punjabi laborers who were constructing a private residence. Late last month, eight Baloch militants were killed as they attempted to storm the offices of a port considered a cornerstone of China’s investment in the region. Two Pakistani soldiers were killed repelling the assault, the military’s public relations wing said. Baloch civil leaders claim their communities are subject to a state-sanctioned regime of extrajudicial killings and disappearances, punishing them for political dissent. — AFP

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