Islamic State claims to have killed two Chinese nationals who were abducted last month in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, in the heart of a large-scale infrastructure project between the two countries.
The claim, by the Isis news agency Amaq, came hours after the Pakistani military announced it had carried out a successful operation against Isis-affiliated militants in the same region.
The Chinese couple were studying Urdu in Quetta, where they reportedly also ran a Mandarin language course. They were kidnapped in late May by men wearing police uniforms.
“Islamic State fighters killed two Chinese people they had been holding in Baluchistan province, south-west Pakistan,” Amaq said.
There was no immediate confirmation from Pakistani authorities of the killing, and Chinese embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.
Reports circulating on social media and broadcast by some national television channels claimed the couple had been rescued but were denied by a spokesman for Balochistan’s provincial government, Anwarul Haq Kakar.
A security official in Balochistan told the Guardian that the Chinese couple might have held in Mastung, the town targeted in the military operation. A rescue operation had failed to locate the couple, but agents had found a vehicle they suspected had been used for the kidnapping, he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Pakistan’s military released a statement detailing a three-day raid in the beginning of June on a complex of caves close to the town of Mastung. According to a press release, the operation killed 10-15 “hardcore terrorists” from the Lashkar-e Jhangvi group, who allegedly intended to help Isis establish a foothold in the area.
The operation also recovered an arms cache and destroyed a facility for making improvised explosive devices, the military said.
While an estimated few hundred Islamic State fighters control pockets of territory in neighbouring Afghanistan, the group has struggled to get a foothold in Pakistan. The group was responsible for a bomb attack on the Balochistan senate last month that killed 25 people.
By Sune Engel Rasmussen in Kabul and Kiyya Baloch in Islamabad