ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A powerful explosion apparently caused by a suicide bomber hit the parking lot of a luxury hotel in southwest Pakistan frequented by high profile guests on Wednesday, and officials said at least four people were killed and 12 injured. The Chinese ambassador to Pakistan may have missed the explosion by a few minutes.
Ambassador Nong Rong headed a Chinese delegation that had visited the region and stayed at the hotel, the Serena, in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province.
“The Chinese were staying at the Serena Hotel but they were not present at the hotel at the time of the attack,” Pakistani interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told local media.
The Chinese delegation was safe and all the victims were Pakistani nationals, officials said. Two senior civilian officials were among the wounded.
It was not known whether Chinese visitors were the target of the attack, which was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, known as TTP. But the group’s statement of responsibility indicated that a suicide bomber intended to strike a meeting of “foreigners and locals” at the Serena.
China is seen as an important ally of Pakistan and has undertaken several infrastructure projects with an offshore port in Balochistan province.
An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss security matters, said the Chinese ambassador attended a dinner with senior Pakistani military officials and was on his way to return to the hotel and that it was only a few minutes when the explosion occurred.
There was no immediate official confirmation that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, as claimed by the TTP. Officials said the initial investigation suggested explosives were inside a vehicle that exploded in the parking lot.
The explosion was heard from a long distance and severely damaged more than a dozen vehicles in the parking lot of the luxury hotel. It is in a heavily guarded area with many important government buildings.
Pakistani officials have acknowledged the explosion was a major security breach.
Balochistan is rich in minerals and natural gas, and the province is also seen by Pakistani officials as an arena for proxy wars between regional and international powers, including India and Iran.
Baluch separatists have frequently targeted the Chinese presence in Balochistan. A luxury hotel in Gwadar, a town in the coastal region where China is working on a deep seaport project, was attacked by Baloch separatists in 2019.
“Given the multiplicity of groups looking to target Chinese interests, I would take the TTP’s claim with a grain of salt,” said Arif Rafiq, president of Vizier Consulting, a New York-based political risk consultancy. . “But if the group is indeed responsible, the attack reflects an enhanced ability to strike high-security urban targets in Pakistan.”
He also observed that the TTP’s allegation of responsibility did not specifically refer to Chinese nationals or interests, so that it was possible “that the attackers were in fact unaware of their presence”.