Police in Pakistan said Tuesday three Chinese nationals and their local driver were killed in a suicide bombing of a van in the southern city of Karachi.

Senior police officers told reporters the victims were traveling to the city’s Chinese-built Confucius Institute when the blast hit their van at the entrance.

The slain Chinese included the director of the institute, which offers Chinese language graduate classes, and two female teachers. Another Chinese national and the Pakistani driver for the foreigners were injured in the attack. 

Ghulam Nabi Memon, the Karachi police chief, said the blast may have been the work of a suicide bomber but an investigation was underway. He noted an initial review of closed circuit video from the site showed a person dressed in a female black burqa walked up to the van just before the explosion.

Local television channels later aired the footage showing the female attacker detonating the bomb as the slow-moving van was entering the institute.

An outlawed Baluch separatist group, known as the Baluch Liberation Army took responsibility for the attack, saying it was the work of female bomber.

An outlawed Baluch separatist group, known as the Baluch Liberation Army reportedly took responsibility for the bombing, saying a female bomber carried out the attack. 

It was not immediately possible to verify the militant claims from independent sources.

The Pakistani foreign ministry condemned the Karachi attack as “reprehensible terrorist” act. 

“The cowardly incident is a direct attack on the Pakistan-China friendship and ongoing cooperation. Pakistan and China are close friends and iron-brothers,” said a ministry statement in Islamabad.

The BLA had taken credit for staging a 2018 gun and bomb attack against the Chinese consulate in Karachi that killed two Pakistani security guards. 

The militant group, along with other Baluch separatists, operate mainly out of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province. The militants are opposed to Beijing’s economic investments under a multi-billion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). 

The CPEC, an extension of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, has built roads, power plants and the deep-water Gwadar port in Baluchistan.

Pakistan accuses rival India of supporting and funding Baluch militants to undermine CPEC, charges New Delhi rejects. 

In February, the BLA assaulted two Pakistan Army bases in Baluchistan and the ensuing clashes had lasted three days, killing nine soldiers and 20 assailants.

The insurgent group is designated as a terrorist organization by Pakistan and the United States.

BLA militants tried to storm the Karachi Stock Exchange building in 2020, where Chinese consortium has a 40 percent stake, but security forces engaged the assailants in the parking area and killed all of them. 

The insurgent group is designated as a terrorist organization by Pakistan and the United States. 

“Pakistan remains the most dangerous place for overseas Chinese workers which is a real problem,” tweeted Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the U.S.-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Last July, a suicide car bombing of a bus convoy transporting Chinese workers to a China-funded Dasu hydropower project under construction in the northwestern Kohistan region killed nine Chinese and three security guards. It was the largest loss of life of Chinese nationals in Pakistan.

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