Islamabad, Pakistan – At least 14 people have been shot dead by attackers after several buses were ambushed in the remote Ormara area of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, officials say.
The travellers were removed from the buses and taken to a second location, where they were shot dead, early on Thursday morning, provincial information minister Zahoor Buledi told Al Jazeera.
“They identified non-Baloch by checking their identity cards and employee cards,” said Buledi. “They took them to the nearby mountains and shot them dead after tying their hands.”
Muhammad Musa, a local health official who examined the bodies, told Al Jazeera that most had been shot in the head.
“They were all bullet injuries,” he said. “There are no wounded, all are dead.”
Provincial home minister Zia Langove confirmed the accounts of the killings and told Al Jazeera “a search operation is ongoing in the area” to find the perpetrators.
“We will definitely look at the security precautions on the route, but it is a very long route from Karachi to Gwadar. We have many security posts, but whenever terrorists want to carry out such attacks, they can target [vehicles] in remote locations,” he said.
The buses were carrying passengers from the port city of Gwadar to Karachi, the country’s largest metropolis, a distance of roughly 630km.
The attack took place at an isolated location on the country’s main coastal highway, near the Hingol national park.
“This is a very remote place, about 60km from the nearest town in Ormara and 300km from Gwadar,” Asif Shawani, a local health official, told Al Jazeera.
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populated province. The attack took place on an isolated stretch of the main coastal highway [Al Jazeera]
The Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), an alliance of armed ethnic Baloch separatist groups, claimed responsibility for the attack in an emailed statement released on Thursday.
“Those who were targeted carried [identification] cards of the Pakistan Navy and Coast Guards, and they were only killed after they were identified,” said Baloch Khan, a BRAS spokesperson.
Buledi said the government could not immediately confirm whether those killed were members of the security forces.
Pakistan has been battling an armed ethnic Baloch separatist movement for more than a decade, with armed groups carrying out frequent attacks against security forces and government targets in the vast Balochistan province.
Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populated province, is rich in mineral resources.
It has been the focus of a number of trade and road projects that are part of the estimated $60bn in investments and loans for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a joint Chinese-Pakistan venture that would see southwestern China linked to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan.
The culmination of the trade corridor is a deepwater port at Gwadar.
Baloch separatist groups accuse Pakistan of rights abuses in its fight against political activists calling for freedom for the ethnic Baloch areas of the province, and say the government is extracting the province’s wealth without providing basic services and rights to those living there.
Pakistan’s military and government say the armed groups are backed by India, the country’s eastern neighbour, with whom it has fought three wars.
“These people have no ideological stance, they just commit injustice and are murderers for hire,” said Buledi in a tweet shortly after the attack.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.
Saadullah Akhtar contributed additional reporting from Quetta.