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Monday, July 15, 2024

Militants kidnap six young footballers in Pakistan: Officials

The local footballers, aged between 17 and 20 according to a local official, were abducted Saturday in the gasfield town of Sui, in Dera Bugti district of Balochistan province, on their way to a tournament.

Security forces in Pakistan’s restive southwest were searching Monday for six young footballers kidnapped by regional separatists at the weekend, a minister said.

The local footballers, aged between 17 and 20 according to a local official, were abducted Saturday in the gasfield town of Sui, in Dera Bugti district of Balochistan province, on their way to a tournament.

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“Our family is profoundly shaken,” Zakir Hussain, father of 20-year-old player Aamir Hussain, told AFP.

“We have not received any communication from him since he was kidnapped and the abductors have not made contact with us,” he added.

“While he is an exceptional footballer, he is also innocent. Playing football is not a crime.”

Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said in a statement late Sunday “the entire area has been cordoned off” and “all available resources are being utilised for the recovery of the hostages”.

He alleged the abductors belonged to the Baloch Republican Army, a militant group fighting for greater autonomy of Balochistan.

“This is a very serious thing that our six kids are in the custody of terrorists,” he said.

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Eyewitnesses and relatives said the youngsters were in a 16-strong squad of footballers whose vehicle was stopped at gunpoint before certain players were identified and abducted.

One security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP there were reports the players were related to separatists who had recently surrendered to security forces.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest and least populous province, rich in natural resources but poor by all other measures.

Baloch people have long complained they do not get a fair share of the province’s profits, giving rise to more than a dozen separatist groups.