x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Taliban torch dozens more Nato tankers

Gunmen torch at least 29 oil tankers in southwest Pakistan, the sixth attack in just over a week as Islamist militants continue to target a Nato supply route into Afghanistan.

Gunmen today torched at least 29 oil tankers in southwest Pakistan, the sixth attack in just over a week as Islamist militants continue to target a Nato supply route into Afghanistan. 

Two police officers were wounded in the attack in the remote Mitri area, 180 kilometres southeast of Quetta, the capital of oil and gas rich Baluchistan province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan. Taliban militants have launched a series of similar attacks to avenge a new wave of US drone strikes targeting rebels in the rugged border region of northwest Pakistan.

"Some 30 gunmen attacked the tankers, which were parked outside a roadside hotel and opened fire early Saturday morning, injuring two local police officials," Abdul Mateen, a senior administration official in Mitri, said. He said the fire engulfed 29 tankers, adding that firefighters were called in from the nearby town of Sibbi to extinguish the blaze. "We will be able to have a precise idea about the losses only after the fire is brought under control."

Mr Mateen said the tankers, which were on their way to Afghanistan, had stopped in Mitri overnight. Abdul Qadir, an employee at the roadside hotel said: "I was fast asleep and got up with sound of intense firing. "When I came out, I saw a group of armed men warning other employees and vehicle drivers to stay away. The gunfire was so intense that it triggered massive fire engulfing all tankers that were parked in front of the hotel," Qadir said.

Baluchistan's home secretary Akbar Durrani said the fire gutted all 29 tankers. Nobody has so far claimed responsibility for the latest attack, which came three days after militants torched more than 40 Nato oil tankers and containers in the northwestern city of Nowshera and in Quetta. "It is difficult at this point of time to fix responsibility on any group. What I say right now is that those who torched the tankers were terrorists," Mateen said, adding gunmen also fired a rocket at the burning tankers.

Mohammed Barwan, an assistant driver for one of the burnt vehicles, said: "The gunmen were armed with Kalashnikovs. We were sleeping near our trucks when these men came and ordered us to leave our vehicles." "I could see some of the men, who had covered their faces with masks," he added. Taliban rebels have carried out five attacks on Nato supply vehicles in Pakistan in the past week to avenge an intensified wave of US drone strikes targeting Taliban and al Qa'eda militants in the northwest.

Pakistani authorities have reported 26 drone attacks since September 3 which have killed more than 140 people in the lawless region which Washington calls the global headquarters of al Qa'eda and the most dangerous place on Earth.