ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A powerful explosion apparently from a suicide bomber struck the parking lot of a luxury hotel in southwest Pakistan frequented by high-level guests on Wednesday, and officials said at least four people had been killed and 12 wounded. China’s ambassador to Pakistan may have missed the blast by mere minutes.
The ambassador, Nong Rong, was leading a Chinese delegation that had been visiting the area and staying at the hotel, the Serena, in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province.
“The Chinese were staying at Serena Hotel but they were not present at the hotel at the time of the attack,” Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Pakistan’s interior minister, told local news media.
The Chinese delegation was safe and all casualties were of Pakistani nationals, officials said. Two senior civilian officials were among the wounded.
It was unclear if the Chinese visitors had been the targets of the attack, which was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, known as the TTP. But the group’s statement of responsibility said a suicide bomber had intended to strike a meeting of “locals and foreigners” at the Serena.
China is considered an important ally of Pakistan and has undertaken several infrastructure projects along with a deep seaport in Baluchistan province.
An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss security matters, said the Chinese ambassador had attended a dinner with senior Pakistani army officials and was en route back to the hotel and was only minutes away when the blast occurred.
There was no immediate official confirmation that the attack had been carried out by a suicide bomber, as claimed by the TTP. Officials said the initial investigation suggested that explosives had been inside a vehicle that exploded in the parking lot.
The blast was heard at a long distance and heavily damaged more than a dozen vehicles in the parking lot of the luxury hotel. It is in a heavily guarded neighborhood with many important government buildings.
Pakistani officials acknowledged that the explosion amounted to a major security breach.
Baluchistan is rich in minerals and natural gas, and the province is also viewed 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 Baluchistan. A luxury hotel in Gwadar, a town in the coastal region where China is working on a deep seaport project, came under attack by Baluch separatists in 2019.
“Given the multiplicity of groups that seek 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 advisory company. “But if the group is indeed responsible, the attack reflects a strengthening of its capability to strike high-security urban targets in Pakistan.”
He also observed that the TTP’s claim of responsibility did not specifically refer to Chinese nationals or interests, so it was possible “that the attackers were actually unaware of their presence.”