Pakistan says Iran-based group carried out deadly attack

MUNIR AHMED
In this Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019 file photo, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi gives a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan. Pakistan's foreign ministry says on Saturday, April 20, 2019, militants crossing over from Iran earlier this week carried out a deadly attack against its armed forces in the southwestern Baluchistan province. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed, File)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A group of militants crossed the border from neighboring Iran earlier this week and carried out a deadly attack against Pakistan armed forces in southwestern Baluchistan province, killing 14, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

The ministry said in a letter to the Iranian government that the assailants were from a newly formed Baluch separatist group, Raji Aajoi Sangar, and that they were based in Iran's adjacent Baluchistan province.

It urged Iran to act against the attackers who had fled back across the border.

Groups operating within Pakistan's and Iran's Baluchistan provinces, which share a long border, seek independence from both countries.

The ministry said the "killing of 14 innocent Pakistanis by terrorist groups based in Iran is a very serious incident that Pakistan protests strongly."

The announcement came a day before Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Iran.

Despite lodging a protest with Tehran over the attack, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters that the planned two-day visit, beginning Sunday, was intact and that Khan will take up the matter of Thursday's killings with Iranian authorities.

Qureshi said he spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Saturday to share initial findings of a Pakistani probe into the killing of security personnel with him. He said he demanded action against those responsible.

He said Pakistan had already shared actionable intelligence with Tehran about the hideouts and training facilities of those Baluch separatists who carried out the attack and that an Iranian response was still awaited.

Qureshi said Pakistan will deploy more troops at the border and enhance air surveillance, which he said would benefit both sides.

Though militants based along the border region often target Iranian guards, it is the first time in recent years that Pakistan publicly accused Iran of "inaction" against Baluch groups responsible for the killing of Pakistani security forces.

Thursday's killing of Pakistani security personnel took place when they were traveling in three or four buses on the Makran coastal highway between the port city of Karachi and the Gwadar port in the southwest.

Qureshi said 10 personnel from the Navy, three from air force and one from the coast guard were forced out of the buses by Baluch separatists who tied their hands and killed them.