Rebel-fired rockets kill police officer and wound several others in Pakistan, officials say

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Rockets fired by separatist insurgents killed a police officer and wounded a dozen other people overnight in southwestern Pakistan, officials said Tuesday, in apparent retaliation for strikes by Pakistan on what it said were insurgent hideouts in Iran earlier in January.

Six insurgents were also killed in the ensuing shootout, according to the government.

Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb targeting supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan killed three people. Khan is currently serving a prison term in connection with a graft case.

The outlawed Baluchistan Liberation Army quickly claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks, saying that two of its fighters were killed.

Authorities initially said the attacks, in Mach district in Baluchistan, were foiled without causalities, but two local security officials said at least one policeman was killed and 15 members of the Pakistani security forces were wounded in multiple rocket attacks. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The BLA threatened to launch attacks on security forces in Baluchistan and elsewhere following Pakistan’s Jan. 18 strikes on their camps in Iran, which killed at least nine people. Those strikes were made in response to an Iranian strike in Pakistan that appeared to target a different Baluch militant group with similar separatist goals.

Tuesday’s attacks came hours after top Iranian diplomat Hossein Amirabdollahian held talks in Islamabad with his Pakistani counterpart, Jalil Abbas Jilani, in an effort to resolve the diplomatic crisis that began with the exchange of cross-border strikes. The two countries vowed to work together against insurgents operating in their border areas.

There was no immediate comment from the military, but Jan Achakzai, a government spokesperson in Baluchistan, wrote on social media that six insurgents were killed in a shootout and troops foiled the three coordinated attacks without casualties or damage.

Authorities sometimes downplay troop casualties in such attacks.

The roadside bomb targeting supporters of Khan killed three people and wounded five others in Sibi, a district in Baluchistan province, local hospital official Shahid Babar said. The bombing happened when Khan supporters on motorcycles were passing through a bazar to attend a rally ahead of next month’s election.

No one claimed responsibility and police said they are still investigating.

Baloch insurgents usually don’t target election rallies, and such attacks have previously been claimed by Pakistani militants.

In recent years, Pakistani security forces have struggled to rein in surging militancy in Baluchistan, where the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups have a presence and often attack security personnel.

Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, as well as Iran’s neighboring Sistan and Baluchestan province, have faced a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades.

Although the government says it has quelled the insurgency, violence in the province has persisted.

Iran and Pakistan share a largely lawless 900-kilometer (560-mile) border across which smugglers and militants freely roam. Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, where Baloch nationalists, Islamic militants and the Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for attacks on security forces in recent years.

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