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Pakistan: Gunmen storm luxury hotel in Gwadar, Balochistan

The attack on the Pearl Continental Hotel was claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army

Four Baloch Liberation Army gunmen stormed the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel in the port city of Gwadar in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province on Saturday, May 11.

The gunmen shot dead a security guard at the entrance to the hotel.

“Up to four armed men entered the Pearl Continental hotel in Gwadar and opened fire,” Balochistan provincial home minister Ziaullah Langu told AFP by telephone.

He said the “majority” of guests had been evacuated but that “there are reports of a few people sustaining minor injuries.”

“Security forces have cordoned area. Guests safely evacuated. Terrorists encircled by security forces in staircase leading to top floor. Clearance Operation in progress,” a military spokesperson said.

Mohammad Aslam, the on-duty officer in Gwadar, said ambulances and rescue officers were waiting at a road leading to the hotel, and that he could hear gunfire but that the operation was coming to an end.

“There were no Chinese or Pakistani guests in the hotel”, he said, adding that only staff were present in the building, adding that at least three are believed to be injured.

Baloch Liberation Army claims responsibility for hotel attack

The Majeed Brigade of the Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility, saying that it targeted Chinese and other foreign investors. The hotel is a centrepiece of a multi-billion dollar Chinese infrastructure project in Pakistan.

The BLA tweeted an image of four men it said had carried out the attack, later saying that after “achieving all their targets the BLA fighters have used their last bullets on them and have left this world.”

“Expect more attacks china and Pakistan,” it added.

In a statement released on Telegram, the BLA claimed that the four fighters had “killed scores of foreigners and Pakistani personnel,” and that Gwadar port was “attacked with rockets inflicting heavy losses on it.”

It said that “foreign powers particularly China should immediately withdraw from their all projects in Balochistan. In these circumstances BLA is willing to halt its actions against Chinese nationals.”

The Baloch Liberation Army, one of a myriad of insurgent groups fighting in Balochistan, has targeted Chinese workers in Pakistan multiple times, including during a brazen daylight attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi which killed four people in November last year. At the time, the BLA branded China “an oppressor.”

The statement said that the hotel attack was “fully supported by Baloch armed organisations Balochistan Liberation Front and Baloch Republican Army (Beebarg).”

Chinese investment in Balochistan

The Pearl Continental, part of Pakistan’s largest five-star hotel chain, is the only luxury hotel in Gwadar, and is frequented by foreign and Pakistani business delegations as well as diplomats. It sits isolated on a ridge overlooking Gwadar, formerly a small fishing village but now touted by officials as “the next Dubai” thanks to the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, CPEC seeks to connect the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Gwadar, with the development of the port as the plan’s flagship project.

Gwadar will provide China with safer and more direct access to the oil-rich Middle East than the waterway trade route it currently uses through the narrow Malacca Straits.

Attacks in Iran and Pakistan

Pakistan’s poorest and largest province, Balochistan has been rocked by ethnic Baloch separatist, Islamist and sectarian insurgencies for years.

In April, Iran and Pakistan agreed to set up a joint border “reaction force” following deadly attacks by militant groups along their frontier.

The border skirts the volatile southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan which has been the scene of frequent attacks on Iran’s security forces.

The agreement came after gunmen who Islamabad says were based in Iran killed 14 members of Pakistan’s security forces in near Ormara in Balochistan province.

In March, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani demanded Pakistan act “decisively against anti-Iranian terrorists” following a February 13 attack that killed 27 Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members in Sistan-Balochistan.

Iran has said a Pakistani suicide bomber was behind the attack, claimed by the Sunni jihadist group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), which Tehran says operates mostly out of bases in Pakistan. IRGC commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari has previously accused Pakistan’s army and intelligence agency of sheltering the jihadists, an allegation Islamabad denies.

In March, Pakistan said its forces had rescued four Iranian soldiers being held captive near the Afghan border. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the four were part of a group of 12 Iranian security personnel who were abducted by Jaish al-Adl in October.

Iran and Pakistan to set up joint rapid reaction force after Balochistan attacks

With reporting from AFP

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