QUETTA: At least 19 passengers were killed and one other was wounded when a group of armed men forced passengers off Quetta-Karachi passenger bus near Mastung in Balochistan on Friday evening.
Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani confirmed the death toll as he termed the incident an act of terrorism. “The victims were not settlers nor from Shia sect.”
Provincial Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti said all the victims were ethnically Pashtun and were travelling from Pishin to Karachi.
After the incident, law enforcement agencies launched a search operation in the area to trace the assailants. Bugti said they were hoping for good news regarding apprehension of assailants by morning.
According a senior official of the Balochistan Home Department, armed men had intercepted two passenger buses – heading to Karachi from Quetta – in Gidrang near Kadocha, Mastung – just 45 kilometers outside the provincial capital.
“At least 25 commuters were forced off the bus on gun point,” he said, adding that the gunmen killed at least 19 passengers and wounded one other.
The official said five passengers were freed but they did not know about the status of the remaining eight.
Confirming the news, a local Levies official in Mastung said that the assailants were armed and numbered more than 40. “It took place at 9pm”.
The official added that the deputy commissioner and other officials reached the site soon after the incident. “Their bodies have been shifted to Civil Hospital Mastung.”
Responding to a question, the Home Department said it was premature to comment on the motive of the attackers while the identity of the victims has not yet to be ascertained.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken notice of the incident.
According to eye witnesses, unknown armed men had blocked the highway in two places near Kadocha area on the RCD highway. “They stopped the buses first and from first two buses they forced off the passengers,” he said, adding that the driver of the bus was killed on the spot.
“We are inside the bus, nobody is here and the road has been blocked for the last three hours,” he told The Express Tribune.
“Two dead bodies of traders and an injured were brought to the civil hospital,” medics told The Express Tribune. More than ten bodies were transported to another hospital in Mastung, he added.
A spokesperson for the Frontier Corps Balochistan said that they were fighting with some of the militants in the area. “Exchange of fire is underway in the area.”
Later, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar expressed sorrow over the incident. He directed that the FC should be provided with two helicopters.
Balochistan Governor also announced three day mourning in the province.