A SURVIVOR reacts at a hospital in Quetta after fellow migrant labourers were shot dead near Noshki.—AFP
A SURVIVOR reacts at a hospital in Quetta after fellow migrant labourers were shot dead near Noshki.—AFP

• Nine victims hail from central Punjab; two locals also killed in separate incident; BLA claims responsibility
• Slain youth had valid visas for Iran, Iraq, wanted to reach Europe via Turkiye
• CM Bugti says checkpoints on highways to be revived; PM Shehbaz seeks report

QUETTA / GUJRAT: Nine people, who planned to reach Europe to live a better life, were shot dead in Balochistan in the small hours of Saturday. The gunmen abducted them from a Taftan-bound bus based on their ethnicity and dumped their bodies under a bridge in a hilly area of Noshki.

In a similar attack possibly by the same gunmen, an­other two people were killed after they attem­p­ted to escape the cordon set up by the assailants on N-40, the Quetta-Noshki Highway.

A spokesperson for the banned Balochistan Libe­r­a­tion Army claimed respo­nsibility for the killings.

According to officials, armed men blocked the highway and started intercepting the vehicles. Soon, they intercepted a passenger coach on its way to Taftan from Quetta and looted the belongings of passengers, including cash and mobile phones.

After checking the identity cards of the passengers, the gunmen separa­ted nine passengers — who had Punjab as their residential address — and took them away at gunpoint.

According to the national identity cards, the victims hailed from Wazirabad, Gujranwala, and Mandi Bahauddin.

Upon receiving the information, law enforcement agencies launched a search operation to rec­over the kidnapped passengers — most of them in their early 20s. However, they were tipped off about the presence of bullet-riddled bodies under a bridge in the hilly terrain of Noshki.

“All the nine people had received multiple bullet injuries on their bodies and were shot at a close range by the abductors,” senior police official Asad Men­gal, deployed at the Noshki police station, told Dawn.

“The victims were travelling in the passenger coach on their way to Taftan,” Habibullah Mus­a­khail, Noshki deputy com­missioner told Dawn. He added that 10 to 12 armed men blocked the highway, abducted nine people and later killed them.

About the two other deaths, the officials said the two people died in the firing in the same Sultan hilly area of Noshki.

They said a car that tried to force its way through the gunmen’s cordon was fired upon, killing one passenger and injuring four others in the car.

“When the car did not stop, the armed men opened fire at the vehicle, bursting its tyres. As a result, the car turned turtle, Mr Mengal said, adding that two local people were killed in the second attack. One of the car’s passengers was a brother of provincial assembly member Ghulam Dastagir Badini.

The bodies were shifted to Quetta and their funeral prayers were held at Police Lines.

‘Plans to enter Europe’

The nine slain men hailed from different towns of central Punjab and were on their way to Iran from where they were planning to enter Europe via Turkiye.

Sources close to their families told Dawn that the victims had been booked by a Gujranwala-based agent for travel to Iran and Iraq.

They said the victims had valid visas for Iraq and Iran — a fact confirmed by the official sources.

The young men who left their towns on April 7 with visas stamped for Iran and Iraq had no plans to stay in these countries. Locals told Dawn that their actual destination was Europe, which they wanted to reach via Turkiye.

They claimed that the victim had procured valid visas for Iraq and Iran to avoid Iranian immigration authorities.

By pretending to be pilgrims going to holy sites in the two countries, they wanted to avoid the scrutiny of the Iranian border officials who often consider young Pakistanis as illegal immigrants trying to enter Europe via Turkiye, which borders Iran.

Out of the nine victims, six hail from the same village of Chak Fateh Shah in Mandi Bahauddin. Their names were Tanzeel Nasir, 20; Muhammad Qasim, 22; Sajid Imran, 23; Abu Bakar, 23; Muzamil Hussain, 22; and Mazhar Iqbal, 21.

One victim from Chora village of Wazirabad was 17-year-old Wasiq, while Rana Shahzeb from Gujranwala and Javed Shahzed of Afzalpur were also among the slain.

Wasiq’s friends told the media that he had left the village hoping for a bright future in Europe, but lost his life instead. Sources in the families of victims said that the agent had initially received a sum of Rs260,000 per person and more had to be paid after reaching the destination in Europe.

Zahid Imran Butt, however, was the lucky one who survived. He said he survived because he was sitting with “a local family from Balochistan”. He said his nine companions — including six friends from Mandi Bahauddin — were offloaded by two armed men who had initially asked all Punjabis to get off the bus. He confirmed that he along with his friends were going abroad hoping for employment

Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Gujranwala, Wazirabad and Bhimbher in Azad Jammu and Kashmir are known as profitable areas for illegal human trafficking networks across the globe. Last year, scores of Pakistanis were killed on their way to Europe after their boat capsized.

Security plan

Vowing that the culprits would not go unpunished, Balochistan Chief Minister Sarfraz Bugti said the government would revive the security checkpoints on national highways to protect passengers.

Talking to the media after attending the funeral prayers of the nine victims, he said those involved in the horrific killing “are not Baloch but terrorists, and they should be called terrorists”.

The CM said the government would probe the Noshki incident and fix the responsibility.

CM Bugti said they would not negotiate on the killing of innocents and the government would undertake a comprehensive review of the security plan in the province.

“National highways are the most important routes, and we will protect them. We will formulate a security plan again in the province, establishing checkpoints with joint patrolling of the police, Levies, and the FC [Frontier Corps],” he said.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also condemned the attack and sought a report on the incident. He extended his condolences to the victims’ families, saying: “We stand with the bereaved families in this hour of grief.”

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024



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