Pakistani security officials prepare for their duties in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan province, Pakistan, 10 September 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/FAYYAZ AHMAD 27649

Tensions mounts in northwestern Pakistan as kidnapped soccer players remain missing

Islamabad, Sep. 12 (EFE).- Tensions were running high in Pakistan’s Balochistan province as six aspiring soccer players remain missing after they were abducted over the weekend while travelling to a tournament, the police said Tuesday.

The players were abducted by unknown armed men in the Jani Beti area of Dera Bugti district, while they were on their way to the town of Sibi to participate in the qualifying round of the All-Pakistan Chief Minister Gold Cup Football tournament, along with over two dozen other players.

“They were on their way when armed men stopped their pickup van and took away six players,” Aftab Ali, the officer in-charge of the local Sui police station, told EFE on Tuesday.

He said the gunmen did not stop other vehicles and the investigation is being conducted keeping in view all possibilities behind the crime, such as personal enmity, or abduction by militants

“More than 15 suspects have been apprehended so far and are being interrogated,” said the police station chief, adding that the players were aged between 17 to 23 years.

The police official said that four of the abducted players belonged to the Defeater Football Club Sui, which won the district-level competition held last month.

The club, on its Facebook page, has prayed for the safe return of the abducted players.

Earlier on Sunday, the interim interior minister of Pakistan, Sarfraz Bugti, had said that paramilitary force Frontier Constabulary had launched an operation to find the players.

“FC Balochistan (North) is tirelessly striving to bring back the abducted football players,” Bugti said on X, formerly know as Twitter.

He also vowed strict punishments for those responsible for “spreading lawlessness.”

Dera Bugti is considered to be one of the most sensitive districts of Balochistan.

Militants in the area have in the past carried out activities such as blowing up natural gas pipelines, targeting vital national infrastructure, attacking security forces and kidnapping pro-government individuals.

The Balochistan province, geographically the largest in the country, witnesses frequent violence due to the presence of several armed groups, Taliban factions and Islamist organizations, many of which have been fighting the government for decades to establish an independent state. EFE