ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Gunmen killed 14 commuter bus passengers in southwestern Pakistan on Thursday, apparently singling out people who worked for the armed services, in an attack claimed by separatists in Baluchistan province.
The killings took place on the coastal highway near Ormara, in Gwadar district, where armed men dressed as paramilitary forces stopped six buses late Wednesday night. They checked the passengers’ identification papers and separated 16 of them from the group, then let the rest go.
The local police found the victims’ bodies, which had been shot at close range, early Thursday. Two of those pulled from the buses managed to escape, officials said.
A separatist group, Raji Aajoi Sangar, claimed responsibility for the killings and said that all of the dead were part of the security forces.
“Those who were targeted carried cards of the Pakistan Navy and Coast Guards, and they were only killed after they were identified,” Baluch Khan, the group’s spokesman, said in a statement sent to local news media outlets.
There was no immediate confirmation of this; Pakistani officials remained tight-lipped about the identities of the victims.
Baluchistan is the country’s largest province by area — about 40 percent of Pakistan’s total area — and is rich in mineral resources and natural gas deposits.
But it remains volatile and tense as a result of intrigue by militants, separatist attacks, and smuggling and human trafficking networks. Taliban militants maintain a presence in some parts of the province, and sectarian militant groups have managed to defy the state authorities.
A separatist insurgency by some Baluch tribes has simmered in the province for decades. While it has subsided in recent years, intermittent attacks on the security forces persist, and at times they have targeted non-Baluch residents of the province.
Separatists have demanded greater autonomy and a larger share of the region’s natural resource wealth. The group that claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack is an umbrella organization of several banned Baluch separatist groups.
Pakistani officials have accused their country’s neighboring archival, India, of funding and fueling the Baluch separatists, a charge India has denied. In 2017, Pakistan’s military sentenced an Indian naval officer to death on espionage and sabotage charges. The officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, was accused of orchestrating attacks in Baluchistan through separatists.
On Thursday, Pakistani officials were quick to insinuate foreign involvement in the most recent killings.
“Some anti-state elements on the behest of some foreigner masters” were to blame and will be “dealt with an iron hand,” said Jam Kamal Khan, the chief minister of the province.
The killings came just less than a week after a terror attack in Quetta, the provincial capital, where a bomb ripped through a vegetable market and killed at least 20 people, including several people from the minority Shiite Hazara group.
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