A burqa-clad Baloch woman suicide bomber struck a van inside Pakistan's prestigious University of Karachi, killing three Chinese nationals and their local driver, in the latest targeted attack against Chinese citizens in the country's financial capital.
The banned Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) linked Majeed Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack on the teachers that took place near China-built Confucius Institute - a non-profit institute teaching Chinese language to local pupils - in the university. It said the attack was carried out by a woman suicide bomber.
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, including Chinese national Wang Yuqing, and Hamid were injured in the blast.
"Academic activities and public dealings will remain suspended at KU on Wednesday to mourn the loss of the Confucius Institute's faculty members," he said.
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.
A spokesperson of the BLA, the separatist outfit which is banned in Pakistan, the UK and the US, said that the attack was carried out by Shari Baloch alias Bramsh - the "first female suicide bomber of the brigade". The attack marks "a new chapter in the history of Baloch resistance," he added.
A picture of the bomber in circulation showed the woman along with her two small kids.
In a purported video issued by the group, a BLA spokesman said that the motive of the attack was very clear.
"It was a simple and clear message to China and Pakistan to withdraw immediately from Balochistan," said the masked spokesman surrounded by armed men on a hilly terrain.
"Baloch Liberation Army guarantees you the CPEC will fail miserably on Baloch land," the spokesman, who was holding an assault rifle, said in fluent English.
He warned that a special unit has been formed particulary to attack Chinese officials and installations in Balochistan.
The group opposes Chinese investment in Pakistan, especially in the restive Balochistan, saying local people do not benefit.
Balochistan, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, is home to a long-running violent insurgency. Baloch insurgent groups have previously carried out several attacks targeting the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.
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.
Senior police official Muqqadas Haider earlier said that the explosion took place at the van's right side at the institute's entrance.
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 area.
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.
"My heartfelt condolences go to the bereaved families. I strongly condemn this cowardly act of terrorism. The perpetrators will surely be brought to justice," the prime minister said on Twitter.
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 militants had attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi but failed to break through the security barrier with three of them killed on the spot.
Thousands of Chinese personnel are working in Pakistan on a host of projects being carried out under the aegis of the CPEC.
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