(Update 1: adds details)
By Jaime Leon
Islamabad, Jun 29 (efe-epa).- The Karachi stock exchange, the symbolic center of the Pakistani economy, was rocked on Monday by an attack, claimed by a separatist militant group, with grenades and a shootout in which all four gunmen and three members of the security forces were killed.
At 10.02 am, just after trading had begun at the exchange, the four attackers got out of a car and threw grenades towards the building’s entrance before firing from their guns as they tried to enter the complex.
The attack was brought under control quickly by 10.10 am, Umar Bukhari, the director general of paramilitary group Pakistan Rangers in the Sindh province, said in a press conference.
Bukhari said that two militants were killed at the main entrance of the exchange – a high-security area as it houses a number of banks and offices – and the other two managed to cross the first check-point but were shot dead soon afterwards.
“They came with the intention to enter the building for not only killing people but also making them hostages.,” Bukhari said.
The insurgents were carrying AK47 rifles, hand grenades and food, “which shows they wanted to stay for a long time,” he added.
Earlier, Karachi police spokesperson Rizwan Patel had told EFE that a police officers and two security guards were killed in the attack, while seven others were injured.
The Baloch Liberation Army, which seeks independence for the southwestern province of Baluchistan, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Twitter.
The province is one of the most restive regions in Pakistan with the presence of several armed separatist groups, factions of the Taliban and Islamist militants.
A “brigade of Baloch Liberation Army today has carried out a self sacrificing attack on Karachi stock exchange. Our fighters are inside the building and have taken control of the area,” the group said.
Bukhari confirmed that BLA had claimed the attack and suggest a foreign link to the incident.
“This terrorist attack could not have taken place without a hostile terrorist agency and number one on the list is RAW (the Indian intelligent agency),” he said.
The BLA had also claimed an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018, in which seven people had lost their lives.
The Chief Minister of Sindh province — of which Karachi is the capital — Murad Ali Shah condemned the incident, saying it was “akin to an attack on national security and economy.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan also condemned the attack, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said.
Although cases of terrorism have decreased notably in recent years in Pakistan, attacks by insurgents have continued to occur.
Last week, a report by the US State Department alleged that Pakistan “continued to serve as a safe haven” for terrorist groups, although it acknowledged that in 2019 the Asian country had taken “modest steps” to check terror-financing.
Pakistan, in a sharp response, insisted that its efforts had not been acknowledged sufficiently, and claimed that Islamabad itself was facing terror threats from groups based in or supported by other countries. EFE-EPA