Gunmen armed with grenades attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in Karachi yesterday in a bid to take hostages, killing two guards and a police officer before security forces killed all four of the attackers, security officials said.
“Police have recovered modern automatic weapons and explosive materials from the terrorists,” Karachi police said in a statement.
Separatist insurgents from the troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan claimed responsibility, a senior counter-terrorism official, Raja Umar Khattab, told Reuters.
The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had claimed responsibility in a post on Twitter.
Spokesmen for the group were not available for comment.
“It was a serious attack but fortunately the terrorists could not manage to enter the main compound,” Farrukh Khan, managing director of the PSX, told ARY news.
He said that trading had started when the attackers stormed the building on Karachi’s I.I.Chundrigar Road, also known as Pakistan’s Wall Street, around 10am.
More than 1,000 traders and staff were in the building at the time of attack, according to the reports.
There were fewer people in the compound than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“They had come to carry out an attack inside the building and take hostages inside,” the director-general of the Sindh Rangers, a paramilitary force, Omer Ahmed Bukhari, told media, adding that all attackers had been killed within eight minutes. “Every terrorist was armed with weapons that include Ak-47s, hand grenades, rocket launchers, food and water, etc.”
“It was a combined effort with rangers, police and PSX security guards,” he said adding that the entire building was cleared within 25 minutes so that the routine activity of the Pakistan Stock Exchange was not affected.
Bukhari continued: “The PSX is an important symbol of economic activity hence the objective of these militants must have been to increase casualties here or hold hostages.”
“It was an attempt to send a message to the world that Pakistan is not safe. They wanted to downgrade Pakistan’s economic activity and harm investors’ confidence,” he noted.
The police chief of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city and financial hub, Ghulam Nabi Memon, told Reuters that the gunmen attacked with grenades and guns after pulling up in a silver Corolla car.
Two guards and a police officer were killed and seven people were wounded, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Sharjil Kharal told media.
Pakistan’s military praised the swift response of the city’s security forces, while the Karachi police released a video of one member from a provincial security unit describing the firefight.
“I shot one of them dead ... the second guy saw me and ... he took out a grenade. I shot him twice in his hand and his weapon fell down. I then shot him in the head as he tried to pull out the grenade pin,” said Mohamed Rafiq, a member of an elite provincial rapid response team.
The video of the officer was shared widely online, with social media users calling Rafiq a hero.
A counter-terrorism official told Reuters that the attackers were carrying significant quantities of ammunition and grenades in backpacks.
“We locked ourselves in our offices,” said Asad Javed, who works at a brokerage in the stock exchange building, which is in a high security zone that also houses the head offices of several banks.
Javed said that he was on the ground floor when he heard gunfire and an explosion and people scattered for safety.
Sindh Rangers director-general Bukhari said that the attack could not have been carried out without the support of “hostile intelligence agencies”.
“But at the moment we have to collect evidence to establish the supporters,” he added.
An aide to Pakistan’s prime minister on national security matters, Moeed Yusuf, and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, both said the attack was sponsored by hostile foreign elements.
“Make no mistake, today’s attack in Karachi is state-sponsored terrorism against Pakistan,” said Yusuf. “The world must wake up to suicidal tendencies of this destabilising actor that is finding distractions to overcome its own failures and embarrassment.”
The BLA claimed responsibility in a brief message on a Twitter account set up shortly before the raid, describing it as a “self-sacrificing” attack carried out by its Majeed brigade.
The account was suspended a short time after the attack.
Separatists have been fighting for years in resource-rich Baluchistan, complaining that its gas and mineral wealth is unfairly exploited by Pakistan’s richer, more powerful provinces.
The BLA’s Majeed brigade also took responsibility for an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018.
Several projects linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are in Baluchistan.
This month, three explosions on the same day claimed by a little-known separatist group killed four people including two soldiers in the southern province of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital.
The PSX did not suspend trading during the attack.
Its main KSE-100 index dropped 220 points briefly but later recovered and closed the day 242 points (0.7%) higher.
“Trading is smooth and continuing. PSX benchmark index one of the Best Performer in Asia today so far,” tweeted Mohamed Sohail, a broker at the exchange.
Following yesterday’s attack in Karachi, Pakistani authorities vowed to strike back against any group that is found responsible for the onslaught, promising to dismantle their networks and destroy their bases.
“An investigation has been launched and very soon we will reach their masterminds,” Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah said in a video message posted after the attack.
Karachi was once a hotspot for crime and violence, with heavily-armed groups linked to politicians frequently gunning down opponents and launching attacks on residential areas.
But the situation has largely stabilised in recent years following operations by security agencies against armed political outfits and Islamist militants.
Last year, the US State Department designated the BLA as a global terrorist group, making it a crime for anyone in the United States to assist the militants and freezing any US assets they may have.
Yesterday’s attack comes more than a week after a grenade was thrown at a line of people waiting outside a government welfare office in the city, killing one and injuring eight others, according to a statement from municipal authorities.
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