At least four people have been killed, including three Chinese nationals, after an explosion ripped through a van on a university campus in southern Pakistan, officials said.
The Baloch Liberation Army – one of several groups fighting for independence in Pakistan’s biggest province – claimed responsibility for the blast at the University of Karachi on Tuesday, saying in a statement on Telegram that it was their first suicide attack by a woman assailant.
Chinese targets have regularly been attacked by separatists from Balochistan, where Beijing is involved in huge infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon said security camera footage from the site showed a person dressed in a burqa walking up to the van, followed by an instantaneous explosion.
The Chinese fatalities included the director of the Chinese-built Confucius Institute, which offers Chinese language graduate classes, and two teachers. The fourth person to die was their Pakistani driver, officials said.
The blast was the first major attack in an urban area of Pakistan since Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took power this month. He condemned what he called a “cowardly act of terrorism”.
“I am deeply grieved on the loss of precious lives including of our Chinese friends in the heinous attack in Karachi today,” Sharif said in a statement.
Tensions have flared in recent years in Balochistan following a huge influx of Chinese investment.
China is upgrading energy links and infrastructure as part of a $54bn programme known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, with both nations wary of security threats to the projects.
In April 2021, a suicide bomb attack at a luxury hotel hosting the Chinese ambassador in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, killed four and wounded dozens. The ambassador was unhurt.
In July last year, a bus carrying engineers to a construction site near a dam in northwestern Pakistan was hit by a bomb, killing 13 people including nine Chinese workers.
The attack frayed relations between Islamabad and Beijing, and Pakistan later paid millions in compensation to the families of the Chinese workers killed.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Tuesday’s suicide blast was “a direct attack on … Pakistan-China friendship and ongoing cooperation”.
“Pakistan attaches great importance to safety and security of Chinese nationals, projects and institutions in Pakistan,” it said in a statement.