Gunmen storm luxury hotel in Pakistan port city of Gwadar
ISLAMABAD, – At least one person has been killed after three gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in the southwestern Pakistani city of Gwadar, the centrepiece of a multi-billion dollar Chinese infrastructure project, the military said Saturday.
The gunmen shot dead a security guard at the entrance to the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel before entering, the army said. It was the second deadly attack to take place in a prominent Pakistani city this week.
“Security forces have cordoned area. Guests safely evacuated. Terrorists encircled by security forces in staircase leading to top floor. Clearance Operation in progress,” a military spokesman said.
Earlier, Ziaullah Langu, the home minister for Balochistan province where Gwadar is located, told AFP four gunmen had “opened fire” on the hotel.
“There are reports of a few people sustaining minor injuries,” the minister said.
Mohammad Aslam, the on-duty officer in Gwadar, said ambulances and rescue officers were waiting at a road leading to the hotel, and that he could hear gunfire but that the operation was coming to an end.
“There were no Chinese or Pakistani guests in the hotel,” he said, adding that only staff were present in the building, adding that at least three are believed to be injured.
A Baloch separatist group, the Balochistan Liberation Army, claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter.
The Pearl Continental, part of Pakistan’s largest five-star hotel chain, is the only luxury hotel in Gwadar, frequented by foreign and Pakistani business delegations as well as diplomats.
It sits isolated on a ridge overlooking the Arabian Sea port city of Gwadar, formerly a small fishing village but now touted by officials as “the next Dubai” thanks to the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, CPEC seeks to connect the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Gwadar, with the development of the port as the plan’s flagship project.
Gwadar will provide China with safer and more direct access to the oil-rich Middle East than the waterway trade route it currently uses through the narrow Malacca Straits.
But it has also drawn its share of attacks, particularly from separatists who have long complained that residents of Pakistan’s poorest and largest province do not receive a fair share of profits from its resources.
– Rocked by insurgencies –
The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is one of a myriad of insurgent groups fighting in Balochistan, which has been rocked by separatist, Islamist and sectarian violence for years.
The BLA has targeted Chinese workers in Pakistan multiple times, including during a brazen daylight attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi which killed four people in November last year.
At the time, the BLA branded Beijing “an oppressor”.
Balochistan is tightly guarded by the Pakistani military, who have been targeting insurgents there since 2004. The army has been repeatedly accused by international rights groups of abuses there, but denies the allegations.
Foreigners are rarely allowed to travel to the province without seeking special authorisation.
Violence in Pakistan has dropped significantly since the country’s deadliest-ever militant attack, an assault on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed more than 150 people — most of them children.
But militants still retain the ability to carry out attacks, including in major urban centres and tightly-guarded targets, and analysts have long warned that Pakistan is yet to tackle the root causes of extremism.
Earlier this week a suicide blast claimed by the Pakistani Taliban at one of the country’s oldest and most popular Sufi shrines killed at least 12 people in the eastern city of Lahore.