KARACHI (REUTERS, AFP, BLOOMBERG) - Four gunmen who attacked the Pakistani Stock Exchange building in the city of Karachi on Monday (June 29) killing six people have been identified by the authorities as Baloch separatists.
Four security guards, a police officer and a bystander were killed in the melee. Local police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon said all four assailants were also dead.
"Police have recovered modern automatic weapons and explosive materials from the terrorists," Karachi police said in a statement.
Mr Memon told Reuters the gunmen attacked with grenades and guns after pulling up in a silver Corolla car.
The gunmen initially threw a grenade then opened fire on a security post outside the building. The four were killed when security forces posted there responded.
"There was very heavy firing," said Abid Ali Habib, chief executive officer at Aba Ali Habib Securities Pvt. who was in his office on the fourth floor. "We decided to close our office doors with no movement inside or out."
The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) later claimed responsibility in a message sent to AFP, saying an elite unit of fighters had carried out the assault.
The separatists have carried out a string of high-profile attacks across the country in recent years - including in the southern port city.
The BLA is one of several insurgent groups fighting primarily in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, which has been rocked by separatist, Islamist and sectarian violence for years.
The group has targeted infrastructure projects and Chinese workers in Pakistan multiple times in recent years, including during a brazen daylight attack on Bejing's consulate in Karachi which killed four people in 2018.
In May last year, the BLA attacked a luxury hotel near the Afghan border at Gwadar, where a port development is the flagship project of a multi-billion dollar national infrastructure project funded by China.
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.
Following Monday's attack Pakistani authorities vowed to strike back against at any group 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.
Business continued as usual at the Karachi stock exchange after the attack.
Karachi was once a hotspot for crime and political and ethnic violence, with heavily armed groups tied to politicians frequently gunning down opponents and launching attacks on residential areas.
However, the situation has largely stabilised in recent years following operations by security agencies against armed political outfits and Islamist militants.
The operations were coupled with a series of large-scale military offensives targeting homegrown insurgents as well as Taleban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants - often based near the lawless border with Afghanistan.
Apart from Islamist militants, Pakistan has also had to contend with separatist insurgents in Balochistan and Sindh provinces.