Security forces on Friday killed the alleged mastermind of the country’s worst ever suicide bombing in an early morning shootout in Balochistan, officials said.
The operation was carried out on a intelligence tip-off about the presence of an Islamic State operative identified as Hidayat Ullah in a house in Darenjo village of Qalat district in the restive province.
“The Frontier Corps (FC) raided the house and killed Hidayat Ullah after a strong resistance from him,” said Qaisar Khan, a senior administration official in Qalat.
A senior FC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP Ullah was facilitator of Hafeez Nawaz, who carried out the suicide bombing last week which killed at least 149 people.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack at an election rally in Balochistan’s Mastung district.
Provincial authorities identified the bomber as Nawaz, a Pakistani national who stayed in Afghanistan and “waged jihad” against international troops before carrying out the suicide attack in Mastung.
A senior administration official in Mastung district Qaim Lashari also confirmed the Qalat raid. “Hidayat Ullah led a group of I.S. operatives, who are present in different areas of Balochistan, and we hope to track them down pretty soon,” the official added.
News of Ullah’s death coincided with a small explosion in Chaman district bordering Afghanistan, which wounded four people. The bomb planted on a motorbike apparently targeted an FC vehicle and went off seconds after it passed by.
Oil and gas-rich Balochistan is regularly hit by homegrown militancy and sectarian violence. Violence in Pakistan has however dropped significantly since the country’s deadliest-ever militant attack, an assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 that killed more than 150 people, most of them children.
Pakistan’s military intensified operations against militants in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan in the wake of that attack, leading to dramatic security improvements. But analysts have long warned that Pakistan is not tackling the root causes of extremism, and that militants retain the ability to carry out spectacular attacks like the Mastung blast.