QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Gunmen wearing Pakistani police and paramilitary uniforms ambushed a bus before dawn Thursday and killed 14 people after going through their ID cards and forcing them out on a remote part of a coastal highway in restive southwestern Baluchistan province, officials said.
Hours after the ambush, a new separatist group claimed responsibility for the killings. The attack drew nationwide condemnation and Prime Minister Imran Khan called it "an act of terror."
Separatists in Baluchistan frequently target Pakistani security forces and also people from neighboring Punjab province. Punjabis, a different ethnic group from the Baluch, tend to dominate the ranks of the military units stationed in Baluchistan that the separatists are fighting.
The attack took place as the bus was traveling on the Makran coastal highway between the port city of Karachi and the Gwadar port in the southwest, local official Jehangir Dashti told The Associated Press.
Dashti said the passengers targeted in the attack were killed after the assailants checked their identity cards but he could not confirm if all the slain were Punjabis.
Security personnel also frequently use buses to travel to their jobs in Gwadar, a port built through investments and help from China.
"Dozens of gunmen" were involved in the attack and fled the scene afterward, Dashti said.
"In this tragic incident, 14 passengers were forced off the bus, they were lined up in a nearby open area and killed by the terrorists," he said.
Security forces from the nearby town of Buzi Top were dispatched and had reached the area, about 600 kilometers (375 miles) from the provincial capital, Quetta, he added.
The Pakistani Navy said its sailors and officers who were travelling to work were also among the slain men. One was a member of the country's coast guard. According to intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, nine employees of the Navy were among the dead.
In his statement, Prime Minister Khan ordered authorities "to make every possible effort to identify and to bring the perpetrators of the barbaric act to justice." Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Pakistan had made great sacrifices in the war on terror, which has not ended yet.
Separatists have for years waged a low-level insurgency in oil-rich Baluchistan, complaining of discrimination and demanding a fairer share of the province's resources and wealth.
Little is known about the newly formed separatist Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar group, which claimed responsibility for the attack.
Other militant groups also operate in Baluchistan. Last Friday, a suicide bomber targeted an open-air market in Quetta, killing 20 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.