Pakistani forces said on Sunday they have killed a number of key commanders of the Islamic State group in an operation based on intelligence reports that the militants were holding two Chinese nationals abducted from the restive Balochistan province last month. The operation was carried out in the mountainous Mastung district after intelligence reports said the group was holding the Chinese nationals kidnapped on May 24 from Jinnah Town of the provincial capital Quetta. Jinnah Town is one of the affluent residential areas where Chinese NGOs teach Mandarin.
“We received information that the two Chinese language teachers kidnapped from Quetta were being held in the hills of Mastung,” Balochistan government spokesman Abdul Kakar said. “The pair was not found but at least 12 militants were killed in the gun battles,” according to a security official. The official said the vehicles used in the kidnapping of the Chinese nationals were found at the hideout, however. The security operation began on Friday and was still on.
The security forced did not identify those killed in the operation, but Dawn newspaper reported that they included the top leadership of the Islamic State group in Pakistan. Suicide vests, weapons, and explosives were also recovered from the scene, which Pakistani officials said could have been used for launching terror attacks in the province. Seven Pakistani soldiers were injured in the operation, and two were said to be critical, another official said.
Official sources said the operation was the biggest since 2015 when Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq and his associates were killed in Punjab province. Pakistan officially denies any organised presence of IS in the country but the terrorist group has support among local extremists and has been involved in several militant attacks. The kidnapping of the Chinese nationals has raised concerns in Beijing over the multi-billion dollar investment in Pakistan. During the incident last month, one Chinese woman had managed to escape when the abductors fired in the air to disperse onlookers but they managed to get hold of two others.
The abduction forced the Chinese embassy in Islamabad to evacuate 10 of its nationals from Quetta and send them home. Chinese interest in mineral-rich Balochistan has spiked with the USD 50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which links Pakistan’s deep-water Gwadar port to Xinjiang in China. China has asked Pakistan to improve security, especially in Balochistan where it is building the strategic Gwadar port. On May 13, ten labourers working on a linking road project of the Gwadar port were shot dead by motorcycle-borne gunmen.
A day earlier, a suicide bombing targeted the convoy of Deputy Chairman of Senate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri. The attack in Mastung – the same area where the security operation was carried out on Sunday – killed 26 people. Pakistan has deployed a Maritime Security Force and Special Security Division to protect locals and foreigners working on projects under the CPEC, including Gwadar.