Karachi: A burqa-clad woman suicide bomber struck a van inside the premises of the University of Karachi in Pakistan's financial capital, killing three Chinese nationals and their local driver, in what is believed be the latest targeted attack against Chinese citizens.
The banned Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack that took place near China-built Confucius Institute - a non-profit institute teaching Chinese language to local pupils- in the university.
A spokesperson for the university said that three of the victims were Chinese nationals. They were identified as Confucius Institute Director Huang Guiping, Ding Mupeng, Chen Sa and Khalid, the Pakistani driver.
The spokesperson added that two others, Wang Yuqing and Hamid, were injured in the incident.
Counter-Terrorism Department official Raja Umar Khattab said that the suicide attack was carried out by a woman, adding that ball bearings were found at the site of the blast, Dawn newspaper reported.
He said the van was properly guarded as a Rangers team was escorting it.
Four Rangers who were behind the van on motorcycles were also injured. However, their condition is stable.
CCTV footage of the attack showed a burqa-clad woman standing outside the entrance of the Confucius Institute. The woman detonated herself just as the van neared the institute's entrance, the paper said.
Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon said that it was unfortunate that teachers had been targeted.
Asked whether a threat had been issued prior to the attack, the senior officer said that there was "always a threat".
He said tight security arrangements were already in place at the varsity.
Earlier, there were conflicting reports about the blast.
Senior police official Muqqadas Haider said that the explosion took place at the van's right side at the institute's entrance.
When asked to comment on the nature of the blast, he said it was too early to say anything definitively. Haider said CCTV footage was being analysed and the nature of the blast would only be confirmed after the bomb disposal squad submitted its report.
Urdu language Jang newspaper reported that the van was bringing the foreign nationals who used to teach Chinese at the IBA institute inside the Karachi University from their guesthouse when the blast took place.
Videos of the blast-hit van were also posted on social media with flames of fire completely destroying the vehicle as police and paramilitary rangers reached the scene immediately and cordoned off the areas.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah directed the Counter-Terrorism Department and SSP East to immediately reach the site of the incident. He also asked the Karachi commissioner to submit a report.
He later visited the Chinese Consulate where he briefed Consul General Li Bijian about the blast.
The chief minister assured the Chinese official that the incident would be fully investigated, a statement issued by the CM's office said.
"Those involved in the incident will be brought to justice. We value the services rendered by Chinese experts in the country and the province," Shah said.
"Some elements do not like the partnership between the two countries," he said, adding that the miscreants behind the incident would be dealt with an iron hand.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also expressed grief over the blast and assured Shah of the Centre's full help and cooperation in dealing with such incidents.
"The prime minister said that terrorists are [the] enemies of Pakistan. He vowed to eliminate the remainder of terrorists through collective efforts and unity. He directed for the provision of the best medical facilities to the injured," the PMO said.
Pakistan Peoples’ Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also condemned the attack. "Sindh police will soon get to the bottom of the incident," he said, adding that the perpetrators would be punished.
He called for steps to be taken to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens.
The Foreign Office spokesperson condemned the attack, offering condolences and sympathies to the families of victims.
"We strongly condemn the reprehensible terrorist attack in Karachi which claimed innocent lives, including those of Chinese nationals working at the Confucius Institute," he said.
It added that the "cowardly incident is a direct attack on the Pakistan-China friendship and ongoing cooperation".
"Pakistan and China are close friends and iron-brothers. Pakistan attaches great importance to the safety and security of Chinese nationals, projects and institutions in Pakistan," it said.
This is not the first time Chinese nationals have been the target of terror attacks in Karachi, which is Pakistan's biggest city and economic hub.
In July last year, masked armed men on a motorcycle opened fire on a vehicle carrying two Chinese nationals in Karachi in which one of them was critically wounded.
In the same month, nearly a dozen Chinese engineers were killed when a bus carrying construction workers was "attacked" in northwest Pakistan.
In November 2018, Baloch separatist militants had attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi but failed to break through the security barrier with three of them killed on the spot.
Outlawed militant separatist groups in the restive Balochistan province have claimed several attacks on Chinese nationals who work in large numbers in different parts of Pakistan particularly Balochistan and Karachi because of the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.
Thousands of Chinese personnel are working in Pakistan on a host of projects being carried out under the aegis of the CPEC.