Pakistani officials on Saturday said they had rescued 11 kidnapped foreigners – eight Iranians, two Tunisians and one Yemeni national – in the southwest town of Turbat near the Iranian border. The security officials told AFP that those freed did not include a group of Iranian border guards believed to have been kidnapped by jihadists and taken to Pakistan in early February, sparking diplomatic tensions.
“11 foreigners were rescued in a raid in a neighbourhood of Turbat town, some 1,050 kilometres (656 miles) west of Quetta,” a security official told AFP. The raid had been conducted in an attempt to rescue five Iranian border guards who were kidnapped on February 6 from Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province, officials said. But the freed hostages were not thought to be the guards but believed to be connected to drug cartels operating in the province and to have been held hostage by them, officials said.
Baluchistan is known as a gateway to Asia for drug smugglers and sees a frequent influx of foreigners from Iran and elsewhere. Diplomatic ties between Iran and Pakistan touched a fresh low last week over fate of the kidnapped border guards, when the Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli reportedly threatened Pakistan that Tehran may send forces into Pakistan to free them.
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Home to a large Sunni minority and ethnic Baluch people in a predominantly Shiite country, Sistan-Baluchestan province has been the scene of unrest in recent years. An insurgent group calling itself Jaish-ul Adl, or Army of Justice, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The group posted pictures on its Facebook page it said were of the soldiers, handcuffed and being held in an unknown location.