Armed separatists have stormed the Chinese consulate in Karachi, triggering an hour-long shootout during which two Pakistani civilians, two police officers and the three assailants were killed.
The assault, claimed by a militant group from the south-western province of Balochistan, reflected the separatists’ attempt to strike at the heart of Pakistan’s close relationship with China, which has invested heavily in road and transportation projects in the country.
It was a particularly violent day across the region.
A suicide attacker on a motorbike set off explosives in a crowded festival and market in northwest Pakistan’s Orakzai region, killing at least 25 people at around the same time as the Karachi bloodshed.
Over the border in eastern Afghanistan, a suicide blast at a mosque on an army base killed at least 26 people and wounded 50, security officials said. Earlier in the week, a suicide bomber killed 55 people in the capital, Kabul.
All the Chinese diplomats and staff at the consulate in Karachi were safe and unharmed during the attack and the shootout, said Ameer Ahmad Sheikh, a senior police official.
The prime minister, Imran Khan, condemned the attack, describing it as part of a conspiracy against Pakistan and China’s economic and strategic cooperation. Khan lauded the Karachi police and paramilitary rangers, saying they showed exceptional courage in defending the consulate and the “nation salutes the martyrs”.
He ordered an investigation and vowed that such incidents would never be able to undermine relations with China, which are “mightier than the Himalayas and deeper than the Arabian Sea”.
In a separate incident a few hours later at least 35 people were killed in a bombing at an open-air market in the country’s north-west. Dozens of people were also wounded in the attack in the town of Klaya in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan. Most of the casualties were minority Shia Muslims. Khan condemned the bombing, saying it was an “act of terrorism”.
The Karachi attackers stormed the consulate shortly after 9am on Friday. They opened fire at guards and threw grenades, then managed to breach the main gate and enter the building, said Mohammad Ashfaq, a local police chief.
Pakistani security forces quickly surrounded the area. Images taken from local TV broadcasts showed smoke rising from the building, which also serves as the residence of Chinese diplomats and other staff. Multiple blasts were heard soon afterwards.
Because of a quick response by guards and police, the attackers could not reach the diplomats, Sheikh said after the fighting ended. “We have completed the operation, and a search is still under way to trace and capture all suspects,” he added.
Sheikh said one of the attackers was wearing a suicide vest and authorities would try to identify the assailants by their fingerprints.
The dead Pakistani civilians were a father and a son had come to the consulate to pick up their visas to China, police said. Dr Seemi Jamali, a spokeswoman for Jinnah hospital, said the bodies of two police officers were brought to its morgue, while one of the consulate guards who was wounded was undergoing treatment.
Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, was for years rife with political, sectarian and ethnic militancy.
A crackdown by security forces in recent years has brought a lull in violence, but scattered attacks still take place.
China has poured billions into Pakistan in recent years as part of a massive infrastructure project that seeks to connect its western province of Xinjiang with the Arabian Sea.
The Chinese consulate is located in an affluent neighbourhood along with those of several other nations.
In its claim of responsibility for the Karachi attack, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) said it was fighting “Chinese occupation” and released photos of the three attackers.
Amir Rana, the executive director of the independent Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, said the attack in Karachi represented an escalation in the violence perpetrated by the Baloch separatists.
So far this year, the BLA has claimed responsibility for 12 attacks against security personnel guarding projects linked to the China-Pakistan economic corridor, as well as against infrastructure.
In a letter addressed to the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan earlier this year, the group warned China against the “exploitation of Baluchistan’s mineral wealth and occupation of Baloch territory”.
But Rana said: “I don’t see that this will have any impact on the Chinese projects in Pakistan.”
The suicide bomb attack in the Afghan border province of Khost came as people gathered for Friday prayers at the mosque on the army base.
The Taliban, who are waging a war to oust the Western-backed Afghan government and expel foreign forces, have launched a series of high-profile attacks against Afghan security forces in recent weeks.
The blast in Pakistan’s Orakzai region was also at a Friday festive gathering.
There was no claim of responsibility for either of those blasts.