By Saeed Shah
Islamabad June 29 (The Wall Street Journal): Gunmen tried to storm the Pakistan Stock Exchange building in Karachi Monday, but all four died in a shootout with guards before gaining entry, police said.
Two private security guards and a police officer died in an eight-minute firefight in which the attackers also threw grenades. Seven more people were injured. Trading never stopped, exchange officials said.
Maj. Gen. Omer Ahmed Bokhari, head of the paramilitary Rangers force for the province, said the assailants wanted to kill people inside the stock exchange and take hostages there. The building houses a trading floor and brokerage offices.
“The aim was to hit Pakistan economically, to damage the confidence of investors,” said Maj. Gen. Bokhari, addressing a press conference after the attack. “They wanted mass casualties and hostages. But they weren’t successful.”
He blamed the attack on neighboring India, the country’s traditional enemy. A separatist group from the western Pakistani province of Balochistan claimed responsibility. Pakistan has consistently accused insurgents from Balochistan of having support from India, a charge repeatedly denied by New Delhi.
There was no immediate response from the Indian government.
The stock exchange was guarded with a series of gates manned by private security guards, police and the paramilitary Rangers force. They were bolstered by police and paramilitary reinforcements dispatched once the attack began.
Around 10 a.m. local time Monday—just when the market opened—the four attackers got out of a car at the stock exchange’s gate on the road and started firing, police said. Two of the assailants were killed at that gate, security officials said, the other two were gunned down further into the compound.
“We were prepared for them,” said Ghulam Nabi Memon, the Karachi city police chief. “People should not be scared. We repelled them and we will repel future attacks.”
The Pakistan Stock Exchange—formerly known as the Karachi Stock Exchange—is partly Chinese owned, after a Chinese-led consortium agreed to buy a 40% stake in 2016. The same Baloch insurgent group which claimed Monday’s attack also took responsibility for an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018. In that attack, too, the gunmen didn’t manage to get inside the building. Security officials said there were parallels between the two incidents.
Ahmed Chinoy, a director of the Pakistan Stock Exchange, was on the seventh Floor of the building in his office when the attack began. He rushed down to the fourth from where he could peep out of the window to see what was happening outside. He said most people stayed inside their offices.
Mr. Chinoy said at the third gate inside the compound, one attacker appeared to blow up—either he detonated his own grenade or a bullet hit a grenade he was carrying—while the fourth was hit by a sniper.
He said that there was no panic inside the building while the attack was going on. The elevators were switched off and private guards were posted to guard the stairs. He estimated that there were 1,000 to 1,500 people inside the building at the time—much reduced from normal as a result of coronavirus restrictions.
“They wanted to shatter the confidence of the Chinese,” said Mr. Chinoy, adding the stock exchange had received regular warnings from law-enforcement agencies of a terrorist attack since the Chinese made the investment in the stock exchange—with the most recent such alert coming in April.
Amin Yusuf, the chief executive of local brokerage AKY Securities, was parking his car in the compound when the attack began.
“There was a lot of firing going on. I ducked inside the car,” said Mr. Yusuf.
He rang his office and told them to lock the doors, staying on the phone with them. He said his staff watched the attack coverage live on TV, and remained calm.
The stock market appeared to shrug off the attack, closing higher.
China, a close ally of Pakistan, is carrying out a multibillion-dollar infrastructure building program in the country as part of its flag Belt and Road Initiative to spread Chinese influence. Part of that construction program is in Balochistan, most prominently the Chinese-run port of Gwadar. The insurgents say the natural resources of the province are exploited by the rest of Pakistan—and now also by China.
India, which has objected to some of the Chinese-built infrastructure in Pakistan, has an uneasy relationship with China and the two countries are currently in a tense standoff over a disputed section of their border.
Maj. Gen. Bokhari named the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing as being behind the attack.
“This attack couldn’t have happened without foreign intelligence help,” said Maj. Gen. Bokhari.
The attack was claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army, one of the main Baloch insurgent groups, which also released a picture on social media that it said showed the attackers, wearing military-style uniforms and posing with guns.
Security officials said the group’s claim is credible and they were checking the names that accompanied the picture.
Pakistan alleges that the Baloch Liberation Army and other similar outfits have bases in Afghanistan, supported there by Indian and Afghan intelligence—a charge denied by New Delhi and Kabul. Conversely, India and Afghanistan accuse Pakistan of harboring militants that attack them.
A long-running rebellion in sparsely-populated Balochistan is unrelated to the jihadist threat the country also faces, from religious extremists. That jihadist menace has been much reduced in more recent years as a result of operations launched against religious militants. Karachi used to be under constant threat from jihadist, ethnic and criminal gangs.
—Rajesh Roy in New Delhi and Waq