By Gul Yousafzai
QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s military said on Thursday it had killed a senior member of Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi(LeJ) in a raid in the province of Baluchistan.
A military intelligence officer was killed and four other soldiers wounded during the operation targeting Salman Badeni, the Baluchistan regional chief of LeJ, on the outskirts of provincial capital Quetta, the army said.
LeJ, a group which subscribes to the hardline Takfiri Deobandi school of Islam, considers Shi’ites apostates and has carried out scores of bomb and gun attacks in the southwestern province over the past two decades, most of them aimed at the Shi’ite Hazara community.
Badeni had been “involved in killings of over 100 innocent personnel of the Hazara community and police”, the army said in its statement.
An LeJ spokesman, Ali bin Sufyian, said Badeni was not a member of the group. “He wasn’t our member,” he said in a statement. He said the militant belonged to Islamic State.
Islamic State, which operates from the lawless border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, has had worked in alliance with local militants such as the LeJ in several strikes in past.
Islamic State did not immediately issue any statement claiming or disowning Badeni.
The military said two would-be suicide bombers were also killed in the raid, but gave no details.
Earlier this month members of the Hazara community went on a hunger strike in Quetta to protest against the spate of killings targeting them and to demand greater protection in the resource-rich province that has been plagued by violence and insurgency.
Over the past couple of years Islamic State militants have also targeted the Hazara community in Baluchistan.
The Hazaras called off the protest after meeting with Pakistan’s powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who vowed greater protection and promised those targeting Hazaras “shall suffer twice as much”.
Violence in Baluchistan is a worry for China, which has voiced concerns about security in the province that hosts a key route in the $57-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a transport and energy link planned to run from western China to Pakistan’s southern deep-water port of Gwadar.
Islamist militants have killed thousands of people in Pakistan since early 2000s, in their bid to impose a hardline version of Islam.
(Additional Reporting by Saud Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Alison Williams)