QUETTA: Armed men kidnapped about two dozen passengers from two Karachi-bound coaches and killed at least 19 of them in Khad Kocha, a mountainous area about 70km southeast of the provincial capital, in Mastung district, on Friday night.
“The armed men killed 19 of the passengers after taking them to the nearby mountains,” Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti told Dawn. He said the attackers were wearing uniform of security forces.
He said that after receiving information security forces rushed to the area and pursued the kidnappers. “Security forces found the bodies of 19 passengers in the mountains,” he said, adding that security personnel succeeded in freeing five passengers from the kidnappers.
“Exchange of fire between security forces and the armed men continues in the mountains of Mastung,” he said.
Mr Bugti said the bodies had been shifted to hospital and efforts were being made to ascertain their identity.
The driver of one of the coaches was injured in the firing and brought to Sandeman Civil Hospital in Quetta. He said the armed men signalled him to stop the bus and when he tried to speed away they opened indiscriminate fire.
The passengers, including labourers and traders, were coming from Pishin and Quetta and going to Karachi.
Balochistan Home Secretary retired Capt Akbar Hussain Durrani told Dawn that the kidnappers had taken away about 30 passengers and later freed five of them at a distance from the road. “All the passengers belonged to Pishin district and were going to Karachi,” he said.
Security forces launched an operation against the kidnappers and reports suggested that five passengers who were made hostage by the armed men were freed. The heavy gunbattle continued till late in the night.
According to sources, the armed men intercepted the two coaches in Kund Umrani area of Khad Kocha in Mastung district and asked the passengers to get down.
Officials told Dawn that the federal government had provided two helicopters for the operation against the kidnappers. They said that taking advantage of darkness, the kidnappers escaped from the area, taking the passengers along with them, and hid in the mountains.
“Over 15 armed men took away 25 passengers along with them to the mountains and when security forces chased them they shot dead 19 of them and injured one,” security officials said. They said the armed men checked the passengers’ national identity card before taking the away.
The drivers and conductors of the coaches were spared. After they informed the Mastung Levies Force about the incident, they rushed to the mountains. They were later joined by Frontier Corps, Balochistan Constabulary and police.
Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch condemned the killings and said he was monitoring the operation against the kidnappers.
Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti and Home Secretary Akbar Durrani reportedly reached the area to monitor the operation.
Agencies add: Sarfaraz Bugti said the gunmen allowed around 50 passengers to leave and took at least 25 into the mountains.
Balochistan Information Minister Abdur Rahim Ziaratwal said the abductors left their bodies behind as they escaped deeper into the mountains. He said the assailants still held some passengers and that the operation to recover them was still under way.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2015