7 killed as Baloch separatists target Pakistan Stock Exchange

Policeman secure the area outside the Pakistan Stock Exchange building after a group of gunmen attacked the building, in Karachi on June 29, 2020.

Policeman secure the area outside the Pakistan Stock Exchange building after a group of gunmen attacked the building, in Karachi on June 29, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AFP

The Baloch Liberation Army has targeted infrastructure projects in the past

Gunmen armed with grenades attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange in the city of Karachi on Monday in a bid to take hostages, killing two guards and a policeman before security forces killed all four of the attackers, security officials said.

Separatist insurgents from the troubled southwestern province of Balochistan claimed responsibility, a senior counterterrorism official, Raja Umar Khattab, told Reuters.

The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had claimed responsibility in a post on Twitter but Reuters was not able to verify the authenticity of the account. Spokesmen for the group were not available for comment. Later, the group also claimed responsibility in a message sent to AFP, saying an elite unit of fighters had carried out the assault.

BLA’s targets

The BLA is one of several insurgent groups fighting primarily in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, which has been rocked by separatist, Islamist and sectarian violence for years.

The group has targeted infrastructure projects and Chinese workers in Pakistan multiple times in recent years, including during a brazen daylight attack on Beijing’s consulate in Karachi which killed four people in 2018.

In May last year, the BLA attacked a luxury hotel near the Afghan border at Gwadar.

Last year, the U.S. State Department designated the BLA as a global terrorist group, making it a crime for anyone in the United States to assist the militants and freezing any U.S. assets they may have.

“They had come to carry out an attack inside the building and take hostages inside,” the Director-General of the Sindh Rangers, a paramilitary force, Omer Ahmed Bukhari, told media, adding all attackers had been killed within eight minutes.

7 people wounded

The police chief of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city and financial hub, Ghulam Nabi Memon, told Reuters the gunmen attacked with grenades and guns after pulling up in a silver Corolla car. Two guards and a policeman were killed and seven people were wounded, Deputy Inspector General of Police Sharjil Kharal told media.

A counterterrorism official told Reuters the attackers were carrying significant quantities of ammunition and grenades in backpacks. “We locked ourselves in our offices,” said Asad Javed, who works at a brokerage in the stock exchange building, which is in a high security zone that also houses the head offices of several banks.

Mr. Javed said he was on the ground floor when he heard gunfire and an explosion and people scattered for safety.

Mr. Bukhari said that the attack could not have been carried out without the support of “hostile intelligence agencies”. “But at the moment we have to collect evidence to establish the supporters.”

‘Hostile elements’

An aide to Pakistan’s Prime Minister on national security matters, Moeed Yusuf, and the country’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, both said the attack was sponsored by hostile foreign elements.

The BLA claimed responsibility in a brief message on a Twitter account set up shortly before the raid, describing it as a “self-sacrificing” attack carried out by its Majeed brigade. The account was suspended a short time after the attack.

Separatists have been fighting for years in resource-rich Balochistan, complaining its gas and mineral wealth is unfairly exploited by Pakistan’s richer, more powerful provinces.

The Pakistan Stock Exchange did not suspend trading during the attack.

Islamist militants have also launched attacks in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan over the years but their violence has become less frequent after military operations against various factions in strongholds on the Afghan border.

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 12:06:45 AM |

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