QUETTA, Aug 20: Security forces on Monday freed 21 Iranians held hostage by a terrorist organisation and arrested 16 kidnappers after heavy gun-battles in the hilly area of Buleda in Turbat district, official sources said.

One kidnapper was killed and two others were seriously injured in the clash which continued for over two hours, the sources said.

“The personnel of the Frontier Corps and police successfully conducted a joint operation against the kidnappers and got all hostages freed,” Maj-Gen Saleem Nawaz of the Frontier Corps said, adding that none of the Iranians was injured in the operation against the terrorist group.

“The kidnappers belong to Abdul Malik Raki group operating in the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan,” Federal Minister for Interior Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said.

Malik Raki is leading the Jundullah organisation involved in bomb blasts and killing Iranian security personnel in Iran. Some sources said that Malik Raki had also been arrested during the operation, but officials denied his arrest.

The Iranians were brought to Quetta by helicopters from Mand where they would be handed over to Iranian authorities on Tuesday.

The sources said that the Iranians had been kidnapped from Chabar area of Sistan-Baluchestan on Sunday morning when they were going to a port.

“Around 30 armed men cordoned off the area and held 21 drivers and their helpers hostage at gunpoint,” Abbas Ali, one of the hostages, told Dawn at Khalid airbase after reaching Quetta.

“The kidnappers set on fire our 10 trucks and trailers, he said, adding that they had also been beaten up during the journey to Pakistan.

Maj-Gen Saleem Nawaz told newsmen that the Iranian government had informed Pakistani officials in Turbat about the kidnapping of its nationals at around 11 am and said that the kidnappers had crossed into the Pakistani area.

After receiving the information, the FC and police deployed heavy contingents in different areas. The kidnappers crossed into Turbat and wanted to move to Panjgur. However, the FC and police intercepted their four vehicles. The kidnappers opened fire after they were encircled by personnel of the security forces. The security forces returned fire.