Security forces killed four terrorists who attempted to storm the Pakistan Stock Exchange compound in Karachi in a gun and grenade attack on Monday morning.
According to a police statement, one sub-inspector and three security guards were martyred in the attack. Seven people, including three police officials, have been injured, the statement said.
The attackers, armed with grenades and automatic rifles, launched the attack and attempted to enter the PSX compound, which is in a high-security zone that also houses the head offices of several banks.
Security personnel, including police and Rangers, intercepted the attackers and killed all four of them, Sindh Rangers said. A clearance operation was conducted later.
Police said that advanced weaponry, hand grenades and explosive material was recovered from the terrorists' custody. Officials of the Bomb Disposal Unit also arrived at the scene of the attack and scoured the site, including a "suspected car" parked outside PSX that may have been used by the terrorists, for any explosive material.
The Karachi additional inspector general of police directed officials to tighten the security of all important offices and trading centres across the city after the attack.
Rizwan Ahmed, a police official at the scene, told AP that food supplies were found on the bodies of the gunmen, indicating they may have planned a long siege, which police quickly thwarted.
Inside the stock exchange, broker Yaqub Memon told AP that he and others were huddled inside their offices while the attack was underway.
Three attackers identified
Three of the four attackers were identified through their fingers prints as Salman, Tasleem Baloch and Siraj, all of whom belonged to Balochistan's Kech area, senior CTD official Raja Umar Khattab said in the evening.
The four militants were aged between 20 and 30 years and suffered multiple bullet wounds, according to police surgeon Dr Qarar Ahmed Abbasi.
One of the attackers was killed at a distance of 25 feet from their car, another at 26 feet, third at 300 feet and fourth at 312 feet, Khattab added.
The car was purchased by Salman from a showroom located at Old Subzi Mandi by paying cash for which he had also submitted his original CNIC, the record of which was possessed by the Excise Department.
According to Khattab, the attackers drove from Gharibabad interchange of Lyari Expressway and used Mauripur Road for the attack. The CTD has launched a probe after obtaining evidence, he added.
Sindh Rangers Director General Omer Ahmed Bukhari, during a press conference in the afternoon, said that the terrorists were eliminated within eight minutes. He told reporters that the attackers arrived at the scene in a car at 10:02am and they were killed by security forces by 10:10am.
Once the attackers were killed, security personnel carried out a clearance operation and normalcy was restored to the area within 30-35 minutes.
He said that the terrorists had planned a long assault, that included bloodshed and holding people inside the building hostage. All the attackers were equipped with AK47s, hand grenades and food.
The DG said that a tweet had been posted in which the attack has been attributed to the Balochistan Liberation Army outfit, adding that a final statement on it will be issued after investigation.
In response to a question, the DG acknowledged that the attack bore similarities to an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi that was carried out by BLA militants in 2018.
Bukhari added that the possibility of the involvement of foreign agencies, especially India's Research and Analysis Wing, cannot be ruled out, saying that such attacks are not "stand-alone incidents" and cannot take place without the aid of "outside intelligence agencies".
"Straightaway, I can assure you that this terrorist incident cannot have taken place without [the help of an] outside agency. And among them, RAW's frustration is apparent to all of you," he said.
Responding to a question, Bukhari denied the suggestion that the attack represented an intelligence failure, adding that security forces' response was "in place" and the militants "could not achieve any of their motives".
Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon also backed Bukhari's statement, saying that since the attack on Chinese consulate, there have been other attempts that were foiled by security agencies. He said that it was a triumph for the country's security forces as they had responded promptly and thwarted the motives of the attackers.
"We were prepared when they came, we had a good response, we had good coordination with intelligence," he said.
Bukhari said that the militants may have wanted to show that they have the ability to target high-profile places but they had been humiliated because they were eliminated within minutes. The Sindh Rangers DG said that investor confidence in the country had increased.
PSX Board Chairman Sulaiman S. Mehdi said "trading didn't close even for a minute".
"There is no doubt that this was a terrorist attack. I want to thank the security guards who embraced martyrdom for their service. The response of police and security forces was unbelievable. Our personal guards deterred the terrorists until police came in; they were not allowed to enter the building at all," said Mehdi.
Around 1:20pm, the benchmark index at the PSX was up 0.31pc or 104 points at 34,044.
PSX Managing Director Farrukh Khan termed the attack "unfortunate" and praised the security forces for their timely response. While speaking to Geo News, he said the number of people in the compound was lower than normal — usually close to 6,000 — since many employees were working from home due to Covid-19.
He said that the terrorists were intercepted outside the entrance and only one of them had entered the compound, and that too "only a few steps". None of them entered the trading hall or the building, said Khan, adding that trading had not stopped and was still continuing.
Following the attack at PSX, Islamabad Inspector General Mohammad Amir Zulfiqar Khan issued a security high alert and directed all senior officials to remain at their zones. Checking at all entry and exit points of the city has been increased and citizens have been told to cooperate with the police.
He instructed senior officials to personally check security arrangements and present their reports.
FM Qureshi, SAPM Yusuf point finger at India
While strongly condemning the attack, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a statement paid tribute to the security personnel who lost their lives.
He suggested that India was involved in the deadly attack, recalling that he had stated after an attack in Waziristan that New Delhi had activated its "sleeper cells" in the country. The circumstances of today's attack, if examined, "will lead to the same sleeper cells", Qureshi added.
"India cannot tolerate peace in Pakistan," the minister said, adding that India was involved in the attack on Pakistani troops as well.
He said India was being "exposed" before the world, including through its confrontation with China in Ladakh and its oppression of people in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Qureshi said Pakistani agencies are "fully alert" to all threats. "We will foil all Indian strategies [and] further expose it in front of the world," he added.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Dr Moeed Yusuf tweeted: "Make no mistake, today’s attack in Karachi is state-sponsored terrorism against Pakistan."
He said the world "must wake up to suicidal tendencies of this destabilising actor that is finding distractions to overcome its own failures and embarrassment".
"Our warnings have come true repeatedly. Whether on demographic re-engineering in #Kashmir or sponsored terrorism against Pakistan," he added, without naming India.
In a later tweet, Yusuf called upon the international community to "publicly call out and condemn countries" that perpetrate terrorism against Pakistan.
"There is an established link between BLA, an international listed terror organisation, and India, a state led by [a] fascist government that has again perpetrated terrorism in Pakistan through its proxies," he wrote.
Report and condemnations
Sindh Inspector General of Police Mushtaq Mahar demanded a report of the incident from the DIG South.
Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to honour the security personnel who lost their lives in the attack. "I salute our brave police and security personnel who thwarted the condemnable terrorist attack in Karachi on #PakistanStockExchange," he said.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah condemned the incident, saying that the attack was "akin to an attack on national security and economy".
"Anti-state elements want to take advantage of the virus situation," he said in a statement.
He lauded the "prompt action" by police and Rangers and directed all law enforcement agencies to be more vigilant.
While chairing a meeting on law and order later in the day, Chief Minister Shah directed law enforcement agencies to "intensify" targeted operations and further strengthen intelligence gathering "so that the emerging threat of terrorists could be crushed all over Sindh", according to a statement issued by his office.
Police and Rangers officers told Shah a targeted operation will be started against militants in Karachi and other districts of the province within 24 hours.
Sindh Governor Imran Ismail also condemned the incident, saying: "We shall protect Sindh at all costs."
Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa paid tribute to the PSX security guards "who sacrificed their lives as first responders vigilantly checking terrorists' entry to PSX [and] foiling a major terrorist incident", according to a tweet by the military's media wing.
He also lauded the "prompt, effective and integrated response" of Rangers and Sindh Police, which he noted resulted in the terrorists being eliminated in "shortest possible time".
“With [the] support of our resilient nation, we will foil all efforts of enemies aimed at destabilising hard-earned peace achieved through sacrifices of our martyrs,” the ISPR quoted Gen Bajwa as saying.
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted that the "cowardly" attack was thwarted by the "brave and timely action by Sindh Police".
"All Pakistanis are grateful to Sindh police for not only saving so many live[s] but successfully defending the nerve centre of Pakistan’s economy."
The provincial Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah arrived at the PSX after the attack and while speaking to the media, lauded the response by the security officials "whose sacrifice turned this huge act of terrorism into a failure".
Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry in a tweet said that an investigation of the incident must be held from "all angles".
"Foreign hands and planning of a network similar to Kulbhushan Jadhav's are involved in this attack."
He also lauded the law enforcement agencies for their "remarkable performance".
Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) and Narcotics Control Shehryar Afridi in a tweet paid tribute to the "brave officers and sepoys who averted the terrorist attack".
"Our LEAs are fully prepared, ready and standing strong against such coward acts of attacking a civilian office," he wrote.
Additional input by Shakeel Qarar.