Officials in Pakistan say the death toll from the overnight militant raid on a luxury hotel near the China-run strategic port of Gwadar has risen to at least five, including four hotel employees and a Pakistani navy soldier.
Pakistan's military’s media wing says security forces have completed “clearance operation” at the Zaver Pearl Continental hotel, killing all “three terrorists” who participated in the attack Saturday. It said two army officers, two naval personnel, and two hotel employees were among those injured during the gunfight.
A separatist group known as the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for plotting the attack on the heavily guarded hotel, which is located on a hilltop overlooking the deep-water Arabian Sea port. It is the city’s only five-star facility and often hosts senior government officials as well as Chinese visitors, among others.
Prime Minister Imran Khan denounced the deadly raid as part of efforts to “sabotage” Chinese-funded economic projects, especially those in Balochistan province, where Gwadar is located.
“We shall not allow these agendas to succeed. Pakistani nation and its security forces shall defeat them all,” Khan vowed, paying “rich tributes to shaheeds [martyrs] and injured security personnel,” according to a statement issued by his office.
The attack began late in the afternoon Saturday when three heavily armed militants wearing security force uniforms stormed the multi-story hotel, spraying security guards on duty with bullets as they tried to stop them from entering the building.
Pakistani military said personnel of its “Quick Reaction Forces”, navy and police immediately reached the hotel, secured guests and duty staff, and cornered attackers in within the corridor of the fourth floor. Local officials said a helicopter also dropped navy commandos on the roof of the hotel.
The ensuing gunfight lasted several hours, the military statement said all the attackers were killed. The military noted in its statements that the assailants had made hotel security cameras dysfunctional and planted improvised explosives devices at entry points leading to the fourth floor.
A search operation for others who may have been involved in the attack, local officials said.
The BLA militant group also released pictures of four gunmen through social media accounts, saying they carried out the attack.
In a statement late Saturday, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad strongly condemned the terrorist attack and praised the Pakistani military for its “heroic action”.
Beijing has built and operates the massive Gwadar port under a multi-billion-dollar bilateral mega-project, known as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The port, described as the heart of CPEC, is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and officials anticipate it soon will become a hub of regional commercial and transit activities.
China is also fully funding ongoing construction of an international airport in Gwadar with a landing strip capable of accommodating the biggest aircraft.
Pakistan has deployed specially trained military and paramilitary troops in Gwadar and other parts of Baluchistan for the security of CPEC projects and Chinese experts working on them. Beijing considers CPEC a flagship of its ambitious global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Last month, 14 Pakistani security personnel were forced out of passenger buses near Gwadar on the main coastal highway and shot dead in an attack claimed by a different Baloch militant group.
Islamabad alleged the attackers had come from hideouts in border areas of Iran and demanded the neighboring country take action against them.
Baloch militants routinely target security forces and government installations in the most underdeveloped Pakistani province, which is rich in natural resources and gas.