Gunmen mowed down a group of would-be migrants in Turbat district near the Iranian border on Friday, killing at least 18 people and injuring another two in what appears to be an ethnically-motivated attack.
Abdul Razzaq Sasoli, the acting assistant commissioner, confirmed the death count. Those attacked were trying to travel with the help of smugglers to Europe through Iran, he said.
The victims – mostly from Punjab – travelled from Karachi to Turbat in a passenger bus which dropped them in the Dasht area, according to sources.
“They were waiting for their agent (a human smuggler) in a deserted place in the Shooli Jam Bazaar area, around 20 kilometres from the Iranian border, when four gunmen riding on two motorcycles opened fire on them with automatic weapons,” one source told The Express Tribune.
Balochistan Levies official Mohammad Saleem, however, claimed the men were targeted when they boarded a pick-up truck for their onward journey to Iran.
Sources said 14 of the victims belonged to Punjab, while the rest were from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Levies officials drove the casualties to a local hospital. The bodies were sent to Punjab and K-P after medico-legal formalities. The injured have been admitted for treatment of their wounds which were not life-threatening, medics said.
A little-known Baloch insurgent group, Baloch Liberation Tigers (BLT), claimed responsibility for the carnage.
A purported spokesperson for the group, Meeran Baloch, told Quetta-based journalists in a phone call that the men were killed for their ethnic affiliation. He warned that a similar fate awaits anyone from Punjab trying to use this Balochistan route.
An array of insurgent groups has been fighting a protracted insurgency in Balochistan, demanding more autonomy and control over the natural resources of the province.
Settlers, especially from Punjab, have been repeatedly targeted by these groups who consider them ‘usurpers’.
The difficult and little monitored route where Friday’s attack took place is mainly used by illegal immigrants for their journey to Eastern Europe via Iran.
Human traffickers prefer this route to dodge Iranian border guards, while Pakistani security officials allegedly turn a blind eye to this illegal business in return for hefty amounts of money.
Iran hands over dozens of illegal Pakistani immigrants almost daily to the district officials at the Taftan border crossing. Tehran has protested to Islamabad umpteen times over this human trafficking business – but to no avail.
There was no official word on the grisly incident from the Frontier Corps, which is responsible for the border security with Iran — from Jiwani to Malik Sia Koh in Chagai district and near the Afghan border.
President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Adviser on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik denounced the carnage and ordered an inquiry.
Earlier this month, 15 Shias belonging to the Hazara community were killed after gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying 50 passengers from Taftan to Quetta.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned sectarian extremist group, had claimed responsibility for the attack.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2012.