Beijing strongly condemned a suicide attack targeting a bus carrying Chinese engineers in southwest Pakistan on Saturday that injured six people, including three Chinese nationals.
China’s consulate in Karachi confirmed the attack and said those wounded were in stable condition.
The attack happened in the Dalbandin region, around 340km (211 miles) from Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province, when the Chinese engineers working on a mineral project were being transported to the city.
Local administration and police officials said two paramilitary soldiers providing security to the driver of the bus had been wounded in the attack alongside two Chinese nationals. But the Chinese consulate later said three Chinese had been injured.
“The attacker, waiting in a small truck along the route, exploded the vehicle when the bus carrying Chinese engineers came close to him,” said Dostain Dashti, a senior police officer in the region.
He said the body of the suicide attacker was blown up in the attack and his vehicle caught fire.
The Chinese consulate said in a statement it “strongly condemns the attack and sends deep condolences to the wounded of both countries”.
It added that Chinese officials were working with Islamabad to investigate and take measures to improve security for Chinese agencies and nationals in Pakistan.
Saifullah Khaitran, a senior local administration official, said the engineers were working on the Saindak project, a joint venture between Pakistan and China to extract gold, copper and silver from an area close to the Iranian border.
Muhammad Ibrahim, the driver of the targeted bus, said from his hospital bed that he had averted major loss by slamming on the brakes when he saw a blast in front of him.
“The whole bus would have burnt if I had not applied the brakes in emergency,” he said.
Baloch insurgents later claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We targeted this bus which was carrying Chinese engineers,” said Jiand Baloch, a spokesperson for Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
“We attacked them because they are extracting gold from our region, we won’t allow it,” he said.
Balochistan is home to a long-running ethnic Baloch insurgency aimed at seeking greater control over the province’s abundant mineral resources.
Bordering Iran and Afghanistan, Balochistan 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.
Pakistan also regularly accuses its eastern neighbour India of funding and arming the separatist insurgents.
More than 30,000 Chinese nationals live in Pakistan, many of them working on projects under the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s vast trade and infrastructure strategy.
As Beijing expands its influence in the region, its overseas agencies and staff are facing increasing security threats, and China’s embassy in Islamabad in December warned Chinese organisations and nationals in Pakistan to be on alert for “a series of attacks”.
The flagship project under that initiative is the US$60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which includes plans for roads, railways and gas pipelines linking China’s far west hinterland of Xinjiang to the China-operated port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s southern coast. It has become a target for terrorists and Pakistan has deployed nearly 15,000 security staff to protect the more than 7,000 Chinese working on the project. It plans to deploy an additional 30,000 troops for security.
Chinese have been targeted in previous attacks in Pakistan. In May 2004, an explosion at Gwadar port killed three Chinese engineers and wounded nine. Later that year, in October, two Chinese engineers on a dam project in northwest Pakistan were kidnapped. And in June last year, Islamic State said it had killed two Chinese citizens it kidnapped in Quetta.