Armed with assault rifles and hand grenades, separatist militants tried to storm Pakistan’s stock exchange in the city of Karachi on Monday, killing three people and wounding several others before security officers shot and killed the attackers, officials said.
Workers fled for safety, taking shelter in the exchange building as the gunmen and security forces waged a gunbattle outside. Three security officers — one police officer and two private security guards — were killed, along with all four attackers, and the separatists were unable to get into the building, officials said.
“As soon as the firing started, we closed the doors of our office. It was terrifying,” said Faisal Memon, an employee of a brokerage firm who works on the third floor. “Thank God that a smaller number of people are coming to the building these days because of coronavirus.”
In social media posts credited to the Baluchistan Liberation Army, the separatist group claimed responsibility for the attack. The BLA is an ethnic Baluch insurgent group in Baluchistan province, the resource-rich southwestern region of Pakistan, which has been racked by violence for years.
In recent years, the group has targeted Chinese interests in Baluchistan, which is a center for huge development projects that are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, including a major seaport in the city of Gwadar.
Chinese investors own a 40% stake in the Pakistan Stock Exchange.
Efforts by the Pakistani security forces to put down the insurgency have led to disappearances and widespread accusations of abuses. The BLA and other separatist groups have often targeted civilians as well, leaving many in Baluchistan caught between ruthless forces.
Security camera recordings broadcast on Pakistani TV showed gunmen driving up to a vehicle entrance of the stock exchange a little after 10 a.m., getting out of their sedan and opening fire. At one point there was an explosion near a gate; an exchange official told Pakistani media that a grenade had been detonated.
Along with their rifles and grenades, the attackers also brought food, water and a copious supply of ammunition, suggesting that they had prepared for a long standoff, Maj. Gen. Omer Ahmed Bokhari, director general of the Sindh Rangers paramilitary force, said at a news conference.
“These four attackers aimed to enter the building, and not only to kill but to create a hostage situation,” he said. The security force did well to hold them off, he added.
Bokhari said in a news conference that the stock exchange had symbolic value for the attackers. “The objective could be to hit the icon of Pakistan’s economy and economic activity,” he said.
Pakistani officials have long accused India of supporting the BLA as a proxy group, and that accusation was leveled again after the attack on the stock exchange.
“The enemy has attacked from the rear, trying to capitalize on our vulnerabilities,” Shahzad Chaudhry, a former air vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and a defense analyst, said in an interview.
“BLA has a long history of violence and unhappiness with the Pakistani state,” he said. “They have adopted a terrorism-oriented way rather than a genuine struggle for rights.”