KARACHI: Policemen secure an area around a body outside the Pakistan Stock Exchange building yesterday. — AFP

KARACHI: Baloch separatists opened fire and hurled a grenade at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi yesterday, authorities said, killing six people including a policeman. Four security guards, a police officer and a bystander were killed in the melee, while local police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon said all four assailants were also dead. “Police have recovered modern automatic weapons and explosive materials from the terrorists,” Karachi police said in a statement.

The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) later claimed responsibility in a message sent to AFP, saying an elite unit of fighters had carried out the assault. The separatists have carried out a string of high-profile attacks across the country in recent years – including in the southern port city. The BLA is one of several insurgent groups fighting primarily in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, which has been rocked by separatist, Islamist and sectarian violence for years.

The group has targeted infrastructure projects and Chinese workers in Pakistan multiple times in recent years, including during a brazen daylight attack on Bejing’s consulate in Karachi which killed four people in 2018. In May last year, the BLA attacked a luxury hotel near the Afghan border at Gwadar, where a port development is the flagship project of a multi-billion dollar national infrastructure project funded by China.

Last year, the US State Department designated the BLA as a global terrorist group, making it a crime for anyone in the United States to assist the militants and freezing any US assets they may have. Following yesterday’s attack Pakistani authorities vowed to strike back against at any group found responsible for the onslaught, promising to dismantle their networks and destroy their bases. 

“An investigation has been launched and very soon we will reach their masterminds,” interior minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah said in a video message posted after the attack. Business continued as usual at the Karachi stock exchange after the attack. “Trading is smooth and continuing. PSX benchmark index one of the Best Performer in Asia today so far,” tweeted Mohammed Sohail, a broker at the exchange. 

For a while after the attack the bodies of at least two gunmen could be seen in a pool of blood near the exchange. Karachi was once a hotspot for crime and violence, with heavily armed groups tied to politicians frequently gunning down opponents and launching attacks on residential areas. But the situation has largely stabilized in recent years following operations by security agencies against armed political outfits and Islamist militants. 

Militant groups still retain the ability to launch periodic attacks in many rural areas and occasionally in urban centers. Yesterday’s attack comes more than a week after a grenade was thrown at a line of people waiting outside a government welfare office in the city, killing one and injuring eight others, according to a statement from municipal authorities. – AFP