Pakistan: Gunmen target luxury hotel in China-funded port city

A hotel in the Pakistani port city of Gwadar has been attacked by gunmen from a Baloch separatist group. The port is an important piece of China's Belt and Road infrastructure project in Pakistan.

Gunmen stormed a five-star hotel in the southwestern Pakistani port city of Gwadar on Saturday, prompting an hourslong shootout with security forces in which one hotel guard and the attackers were killed.

"Four armed militants stormed the Pearl Continental in Gwadar and attacked security guards at the entrance," Baluchistan provincial minister Ziaullah Langu told DW. He added that no foreigners were present in the hotel at the time.

Local police chief Aslam Bangulzai told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper the assault happened shortly before 5:00 p.m. local time (1200 UTC). 

Officials said the hotel guard was killed as the assailants opened fire with small arms.

Pakistan's military then launched a security operation and a gun battle ensued that lasted almost five hours, the military said in a statement, adding that security forces surrounded the militants on the stairs leading to the top floor.

Two security officials later told the Associated Press (AP) that the four attackers had been killed and that troops had retaken control of the area.

Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the attack in a statement on Saturday. "Such attempts, especially in Balochistan are an effort to sabotage our economic projects and prosperity," he said.

Read more: Belt and Road Forum: Is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor failing?

Baloch separatists claim attack

Within hours of the assault unfolding, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a militant separatist group, claimed responsibility.

A Twitter account apparently run by the insurgents said the attackers had "achieved all their targets."

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"Our fighters have carried out this attack on Chinese and other foreign investors who were staying in PC hotel," wrote Jihand Baloch, a BLA spokesperson, in an email to Pakistani journalists.

Read more: Gwadar – Pakistan's impoverished colony or an economic hub?

Security officer Mohammad Aslam told the AFP news agency that there were no Chinese or Pakistani guests in the hotel and that only staff were present in the building. The luxury hotel is reportedly popular with foreign business travelers.

Baluchistan conflict

Baluchistan remains Pakistan's poorest and least populous province despite a number of development projects Islamabad initiated there in the past. Rebel groups have waged a separatist insurgency in the province for decades, complaining that the central government in Islamabad and the richer Punjab province exploit their resources. Islamabad reacted to the insurgency by launching a military operation in the province in 2004.

Rights groups claim they have the details of thousands of Baloch people who have disappeared over the past ten years and have not been seen since. Pakistani security agencies claim these people were arrested on terrorism charges. However, the whereabouts of these people are kept secret from the public; they have not been presented to local courts for a proper trial, Baloch activists claim.

Read more: Baloch activists in Germany chant pro-India, anti-Pakistan slogans

The region has experienced a recent spike in violence. Three weeks ago, gunmen targeting naval and security forces killed 14 people after forcing them off buses.

On Friday, at least five people were killed by BLA militants in a coal mine in Balochistan's Harnai district.

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Pakistan: Impact of the new Silk Road

Key economic zone 

Gwadar port was constructed by China as part of the Belt and Road Initiative and is an important hub in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Beijing aims to expand its influence in Pakistan and across Central and South Asia.

Baloch separatists — both militant and political groups — oppose China's increasing involvement in the province. In March 2018, Aslam Baloch, a BLA commander, told Indian media that Pakistan and China are exploiting Baluchistan's resources.

Read more: China's economic corridor creating new conflicts in Pakistan

Lijian Zhao, deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, told DW in an audio message: "We condemn the attack in the Pearl Continental hotel in Gwadar; we appreciate the Pakistani law enforcement agencies for their bravery. We are happy that Pakistan's army and police have already eliminated the four terrorists. We also express our sincere condolences to the security guard who was killed in this incident."

In November 2018, the BLA claimed responsibility for an attack on a Chinese consulate in Karachi. The attack highlighted the opposition to China's economic projects in Baluchistan province.

Read more: China consulate attack: Why Pakistan's Baloch separatists are against Beijing

In a 2015 interview with DW, Brahamdagh Bugti, leader of the Baloch Republican Party living in exile in Switzerland, said that Chinese economic projects in Baluchistan were aimed at "colonizing" the province, and must be resisted.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2007 - Twin blasts rock Karachi on former PM’s return

Two bomb blasts struck former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade on October 18, 2007 in the southern port city of Karachi. Bhutto was returning to Pakistan after almost eight years. The attack left 139 people dead. Bhutto, the first democratically elected female head of an Islamic country, died in an attack two months later, on December 27 in the northern city of Rawalpindi.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2008 - Wah bombing

The Wah bombing was a double suicide attack on the Pakistan Ordinance Factories (POF) in Wah on August 21, 2008. At least 64 people died in the attack, which remains to date the deadliest on a military site in Pakistan's history. A spokesman from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2008 - Insurgents target luxury hotel in the capital

At least 60 people died and over 200 were injured when a truck filled with explosives detonated in front of the Marriot Hotel on September 20, 2008, in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. Five foreign nationals were among the casualties, while another 15 were injured.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2009 - Peshawar bombing

A car bomb was detonated in Mina Bazar (a market for women and children) in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. The bomb killed 125 people and injured more than 200 others. The Pakistani government put the blame on the Taliban, but both Taliban and al-Qaida denied involvement in the attack.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2009 - Market in Lahore targeted

The December 2009 Lahore attacks were a series of two bomb blasts and a shooting which occurred in a crowded market in the country’s second largest city of Lahore on December 7. At least 66 people were killed. Most of the victims were women.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2010 - Suicide bomber targets volleyball match

A suicide car bomb killed 101 people at a village volleyball game in the northwestern district of Bannu.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2010 - Lahore Massacre

The May 2010 Lahore attacks also referred to as the Lahore Massacre occurred on May 28, 2010, during Friday prayers. 82 people were killed in simultaneous attacks against two mosques of the Ahmadi minority. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2010 – Bomber targets market in tribal area

A suicide bomber killed 105 people in a busy market in the northwestern tribal district of Mohmand. The suicide bombing occurred on July 9 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. The target of the attack was believed to be a meeting of tribal elders. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2011 - Police training center in Charsadda attacked

A double bombing occurred on May 13, 2011, in Shabqadar Fort in the Charsadda District of northwestern Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Two suicide bombers killed at least 98 people outside the police training center. At least 140 people were injured. The explosions occurred while cadets were getting into buses for a ten day leave after their training course.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2013 - Peshawar church bombing

On September 22, 2013, a twin suicide attack took place at All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan. It was the deadliest attack on the Christian minority in the country, killing 82 people. The TTP-linked Islamist group, Jundalah, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2014 - Peshawar school massacre

On December 16, 2014, seven gunmen affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) conducted a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. The militants opened fire on school staff and children, killing 154 people, including 132 school children. This was the deadliest terrorist attack ever to occur in the country.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2015 – Gunmen target bus in Karachi

Eight gunmen attacked a bus on May 13, 2015, in Safoora Goth, in Karachi, Pakistan. The shooting left at least 46 people dead. All of the victims were from the Ismaili Shia Muslim minority. Banned militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the shooting. Also, pamphlets supporting the Islamic State terrorist group, with whom Jundallah claims allegiance, were found at the crime scene.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2016 – Lahore park bombing

On March 27, 2016, at least 75 people were killed in a suicide bombing that hit one of the largest parks in Lahore. The attack targeted Christians who were celebrating Easter. Fourteen of the dead were identified as Christians, while the rest were Muslims. The majority of victims were women and children. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a group affiliated with the TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2016 – Quetta hospital bombing

On August 8, 2016, terrorists targeted the Government Hospital of Quetta in Pakistan with a suicide bombing and shooting that resulted in the death of over 70 People. The fatalities were mainly lawyers who had assembled at the hospital where the body of fellow attorney, Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Balochistan Bar Association, was brought after he was shot dead by an unknown gunman.

shs,mm,wmr/ng (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Haroon Janjua contributed to this report from Islamabad.

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