Islamabad, Pakistan – Armed attackers have killed two policemen as they stormed the Chinese consulate in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, security officials say, in a raid claimed by ethnic Baloch separatists.
Security forces killed all three attackers and secured the building shortly after the raid was launched on Friday morning, Pakistan’s military said in a statement.
“All of our Chinese friends and officials who work at the consulate, 21 in total, all of them are safe and they have been shifted to a secure location,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at a press conference.
“The area is now clear.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan denounced the attack as a “conspiracy” against China-Pakistan strategic cooperation and has ordered an inquiry.
China condemned the attack and urged its ally to ensure the security of its citizens.
“China strongly condemns any violent attacks against diplomatic agencies and requests that Pakistan takes practical measures to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens and institutions in the country,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.
The military confirmed that three attackers had been killed and that the paramilitary Rangers and police had regained control of the area.
A military spokesperson told Al Jazeera that two policemen had been killed when the attackers initially fired on the gate of the consulate to gain entry.
The raid was claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), an armed separatist group that has been fighting the Pakistani state for independence for Balochistan province for more than a decade.
“The BLA claims responsibility for this attack. Three of our fighters have raided the consulate,” BLA spokesperson Jihand Baloch told Al Jazeera via satellite phone from an undisclosed location while the raid was ongoing.
Liaquat Jandga, who lives next to the consulate, told Al Jazeera that between the firing and explosion, “it felt like a war zone”.
“Security forces used my rooftop since my house is right in front of the consulate door,”Jandga, 60, said.
“The firing went on from my roof for about 45 minutes, we were terrified and only emerged when it was all over.”
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Baloch said the fighters were members of the Fidayeen Majeed Brigade, a new force raised by the group to carry out suicide attacks against Pakistani security forces and Chinese targets.
In August, the BLA launched a suicide attack targeting a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Dalbandin, wounding at least six people.
Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and least populated province, will see a number of new roads and a port constructed under the $56bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an infrastructure and energy corridor that sees southwestern China linked to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan.
The BLA and other armed Baloch separatist groups have frequently targeted Chinese personnel since the launch of CPEC, terming the project an “imperialist” endeavour.
“The objective of this attack is clear: we will not tolerate any Chinese military expansionist endeavours on Baloch soil,” the BLA said in a statement.
The group released an image of three young men – Azal Khan, Raziq Baloch and Raees Baloch – it claimed were the attackers who attacked the consulate. A later tweet confirmed that they had been killed.
Pakistan will be raising several new wings of civil armed forces to secure CPEC, which the government and military have both highlighted as a strategic priority for the country.
“Those forces who do not want there to be peace in Pakistan, who want to place obstacles in the way of Pakistan’s progress, their designs have been foiled by our young soldiers,” said Foreign Minister Qureshi.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, security analyst Zahid Hussain, however, said that the latest attack would not have much effect on CPEC.
“Obviously more security will be needed around the project, but overall it won’t stop the work on the project, because this is not the first time that they have carried out such attacks.”
BLA’s separatist movement
Founded in 2000, the BLA is one of a number of armed ethnic Baloch nationalist groups that have been fighting for independence for ethnically Baloch majority areas of Balochistan province.
Alongside the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), it has been the most prominent armed separatist group in recent years.
Little is known of the BLA’s operational leadership, although it was once led by Akbar Bugti, a tribal chief and influential politician who was killed in a Pakistani security forces’ operation in 2006. It draws its support mainly from the Bugti and Marri tribes of Balochistan.
The BLA has mainly carried out gun and bomb attacks, but since August 2018 it began carrying out suicide attacks through a newly formed unit, the Fidayeen Majeed Brigade.
The group’s targets include government and security forces, as well as non-Baloch civilians who they consider to be part of a Pakistani effort to redraw the demographics of their province. In addition, the group also targets infrastructure such as gas pipelines and railway tracks.
Since 2014, it has particularly targeted Chinese citizens working on projects associated with CPEC. In November 2018, after an attack on the Chinese consulate, the BLA said it rejected “Chinese military expansionist endeavours” in Baloch areas.
The BLA is listed as a “terrorist” organisation by Pakistan and the United Kingdom.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim. Additional reporting by Alia Chughtai from Karachi.