ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s military has killed 12 Islamic State-linked militants in a raid on their cave hideout in Baluchistan province, the army said on Thursday, cutting off Islamic State’s bid to establish a foothold in the resource-rich province.
Islamic State, which controls some territory in neighbouring Afghanistan, has struggled to establish a presence in Pakistan but it has claimed several major attacks, including one on the deputy chairman of the Senate last month in Baluchistan in which 25 people were killed.
The military said the raid near the town of Mastung, 50 km (30 miles) south of the provincial capital, Quetta, targeted militants from the banned Lashkar-e-Jangvi Al Alami (LeJ-AL) group, which has carried out attacks with Islamic State.
“(LeJ-AL) was reportedly making efforts for communication with ISIS and intended to facilitate establishment of ISIS foothold,” the military’s media wing said in a statement.
The military also said the suicide bomber who last month killed 25 people in the attack on the deputy chairman of the Senate had been based in the cave hideout. Islamic State claimed that attack.
“The suicide bomber ... was also sent by this group from same hideout,” the military said.
The military said the operation to clear the militants’ hideout started on June 1 and finished two days later.
“Terrorists who were hiding in caves offered stiff resistance,” the military said, adding that five members of the security forces had been wounded.
Troops destroyed a bomb-making facility in the cave and recovered a cache of arms and explosives, including six rocket launchers, it said.
A spokesman for the LeJ-AL said last month his group had split with Islamic State due to “policy changes”.
The spokesman, Ali Bin Sufyan, did not elaborate on the differences but condemned the May 12 bomb attack on the convoy of Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, which happened near Mastung.
Separatist guerrillas in Baluchistan are also fighting the central government over what they see as the unfair exploitation of their province’s significant gas and mineral deposits.
Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robert Birsel