QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Militants ambushed a convoy of Pakistani oil and gas workers escorted by paramilitary troops in the restive southwestern province of Baluchistan on Thursday, killing 15 people, intelligence officials said.
The attack was initially claimed by the Baluchistan Liberation Front, a secessionist insurgent group that has operated in the region for decades, but a year-old umbrella organization that also includes the group later claimed the attack.
According to two intelligence officials, seven employees of Pakistan’s Oil and Gas Development Company were killed, along with eight members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps who were protecting the convoy. The seven employees were working as security officials for the company, said the intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Pakistani military and Baluchistan’s Home Minister Ziaullah Langove later also confirmed the attack, which took place in Ormara, not far from Gwadar Port, being developed by China, on the Arabian Sea. The port is a key component of Beijing’s multi-billion dollar road-and-belt project linking Beijing to Central and South Asia.
Both the Baluchistan Liberation Front and the Baluchistan Liberation Army operate in the southwestern Baluchistan province, staging relentless attacks to press their demands for independence. They have taken particular aim at the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The project — including everything from roads to power plants — will link Pakistan’s Gwadar to Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province.
The insurgent umbrella organization, known by its acronym BRAS that later claimed the attack, said in an English-language statement that it rejects all agreements Pakistan has signed with China and vowed to attack any “enemy” working to advance those deals with “iron fists.”
The Chief Minister of Baluchistan Jam Kamal condemned the ambush, calling it a “cowardly terrorist attack.”
The secessionists have taken responsibility for attacks on the Karachi Stock Exchange earlier this year, the Intercontinental Hotel in Gwadar last year and the Chinese Consulate in Karachi.
Thursday’s attack is the second in as many days. On Wednesday, six Pakistani troops were killed in North Waziristan and another soldier was killed in Bajur region, both former tribal areas that are now part of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province which, like Baluchistan, borders Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s border areas served as a base for the Pakistani Taliban and other militants until a few years ago, when the army claimed it cleared the region of insurgents, though occasional attacks have continued, raising fears the Pakistani Taliban are regrouping.
There was no immediate comment from the military on the Baluchistan attack.
Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.