ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani militant groups using safe haven in Iran are increasingly turning to female suicide bombers to carry out terror attacks inside Pakistan, say police officials and security analysts.
Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) officials in Balochistan province on Wednesday (March 22) said officers arrested a would-be female suicide bomber affiliated with the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), a militant group whose leadership is allegedly hiding in Sistan and Baluchestan province, Iran.
Law enforcement officers arrested the suspect and confiscated two suicide vests, on the outskirts of Quetta on February 17, Babar Yousafzai, a spokesman for the Balochistan chief minister, told reporters at a news conference in Quetta.
The suspect, identified as Mahil, hails from the remote town of Mand in Balochistan near the Iranian border, according to officials.
"Some relatives of Mahil who were working for the BLF had fled to Iran after law enforcement agencies intensified a crackdown," Yousafzai said, adding that they were helping manage the group from there.
Mahil's husband, Aziz Yousaf Baloch, also was arrested, the Daily Times reported.
Two other women were previously arrested for involvement in anti-state activities, he said, adding that anti-peace elements were exploiting the women, who were mostly poor, uneducated, sometimes widowed and with no knowledge of law.
During the investigation Mahil admitted that banned organisations were using women and children for their nefarious anti-state designs, Yousafzai said.
Pakistani authorities have been keeping an eye out for female militant recruits after a highly educated female suicide bomber last April killed three Chinese teachers along with their local driver at the University of Karachi.
The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), another proscribed Baloch group, claimed responsibility.
Pakistani authorities for months have also blamed Tehran for allowing Pakistani militant groups to operate from safe havens in its territory after several major terror attacks.
Last October, the CTD and other law enforcement agencies in a joint raid in Kharan district arrested Shafqatullah Jhalanzai, a BLA member and the primary suspect in the murder of Noor Muhammad Meskanzai, a former chief justice of the Balochistan high court.
Meskanzai was shot and killed in Kharan city, Balochistan, earlier that month at a mosque.
In a video statement released by the CTD and seen by Pakistan Forward, Jhalanzai confessed that he had received training for militant activities in Sarvan, a city in Sistan and Baluchestan province.
The Iranian regime has been sponsoring Pakistani militant groups and providing them safe haven on Iranian soil to carry out terror attacks inside Pakistan, Hossein Baloch, spokesperson of the Iranian militant group Jaish al-Adl, said last November in an interview with the Midstone Centre for International Affairs (MCIA), a UK-based security think-tank.
Pakistani Baloch militant groups that have taken refuge in Iran after fleeing military operations at home have "fallen into the trap of the Iranian regime and the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]" and have become "a tool of this regime", he said.
Baloch also alleged that in return for this protection, the IRGC has been using Pakistani militant groups, such as the BLF and Baloch Republican Army (BRA), to attack and assassinate leaders and members of Iranian Sunni Baloch groups.
Baloch cited a June 2021 "co-ordinated joint attack [by Pakistani Baloch militants], with the support of IRGC forces, on one of our bases", without saying if the base was in Pakistan or Iran.
He also noted a 2017 assault by the BLF and BRA on Jaish al-Adl forces in Bam Pasht, Iran.
Other international think-tanks have confirmed Baloch's accusations.
Baloch militant groups orchestrated attacks on Pakistani security forces from Iran, according to the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based think-tank.
BLF chief Allah Nazar also is suspected of operating from Iran against Pakistan, it said in a report published last March.
"The BLA and BLF are beneficiaries of Iran's lenient attitude towards them because Iranian security forces have given protection and refuge to them and other Baloch rebel groups," it said.
The Pakistani groups have used this protection to attack Jaish al-Adl, the report added.
Pakistan has repeatedly raised with Iran the issue of the growing presence of Baloch militant groups.
But Islamabad's patience with Tehran has worn thin in recent years over cross-border militancy and Iranian interference in its affairs.
Since 2014, the Zainabiyoun Brigade, an IRGC-formed militia comprised of Pakistanis, has been fighting in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Last July, the Pakistani government formally blamed the Zainabiyoun Brigade for terror activities, particularly the killing of clerics of rival sects, inside Pakistan.
Though the Zainabiyoun Brigade has yet to be banned in Pakistan, the government proscribed two lesser-known Shia outfits, Ansar-ul-Hussain (in 2016) and its offshoot, Khatam-ul-Anbia (in 2020), under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, for their links with Syrian war recruiting.
In a security crackdown in February 2022, Pakistani authorities discovered links between Pakistani money launderers and Iranian intelligence.