The IS group has been making inroads in Afghanistan through alliances with local militant outfits. (Representative image) Photograph: (Reuters)
The two Chinese citizens were studying Urdu in Quetta
The Islamic State group on Thursday claimed the killing of two Chinese citizens who were kidnapped last month by armed gunmen in southwestern Pakistan's restive Balochistan province. The jihadist group made the claim in a brief Arabic message carried by the group's Amaq news agency. There was no immediate confirmation from Chinese or Pakistan officials.
Hours earlier, Pakistan's army issued a statement saying its forces conducted an operation against the IS group earlier this month, killing up to 15 militants from the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi who were in communication with IS about establishing a base in Balochistan.
The two Chinese workers were abducted in Quetta, where the pair had been studying Urdu at a language centre, according to a Chinese envoy in the country. China's foreign ministry said it was working to "verify relevant information through various channels, including working with Pakistani authorities".
"We have taken note of relevant reports and we express our grave concern. We have been trying to rescue the two kidnapped hostages over the past days," the official Xinhua news agency quoted spokeswoman Hua Chunying as saying.
Beijing is ramping up investment in its South Asian neighbour as part of a plan unveiled in 2015 that will link its far-western Xinjiang region to Gwadar port in Balochistan with a series of infrastructure, power and transport upgrades.
Pakistan has been battling Islamist and nationalist insurgencies in mineral-rich Balochistan since 2004, with hundreds of soldiers and militants killed in the fighting. Bordering Iran and Afghanistan, it is the largest of Pakistan's four provinces, but the roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth.
The IS group has been making inroads in the country through alliances with local militant outfits, although its presence is generally downplayed by the government.