KARACHI • Three suicide attackers yesterday stormed the Chinese consulate in the Pakistani city of Karachi amid a series of gunshots and an explosion, but were killed before they could get into the building in a car packed with explosives, police said.
At least two police officers were killed in the attack, which has been claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist insurgent group that opposes Chinese projects in the resource-rich southwestern province of Baluchistan. All Chinese employees at the consulate were safe, according to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and China's Foreign Ministry.
The assault was the most prominent attack in Pakistan against China, a neighbour and close ally which is pouring billions of dollars into Pakistan as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
It was also the highest-profile operation in years by the BLA, which mostly wages a low-level insurgency in Baluchistan. The group also calls itself the Balochistan Liberation Army.
Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered an inquiry, with his office calling the attack "part of conspiracy against Pak and China economic and strategic cooperation".
As the attack unfolded, an explosion and gunshots rang out in Karachi's affluent Clifton neighbourhood, where the consulate is located, and a plume of smoke rose over the area.
Karachi police chief Amir Shaikh said the three attackers came in a car filled with explosives but failed to get inside the heavily fortified compound. It was not clear if the car had exploded.
"They tried to get inside, but the Rangers and police killed one of the terrorists," Mr Shaikh said.
A gun battle broke out, with the two other attackers trying to enter the consulate's visa section, but they were also killed, he said. At least three cars parked near the embassy were destroyed in a blast.
A spokesman for the BLA confirmed there were three attackers. "They stormed the Chinese embassy in Karachi. China is exploiting our resources," spokesman Jiand Baloch told Reuters by telephone.
The insurgents are based in Baluchistan, where China has funded the development of a deep-water port in the town of Gwadar, and is also funding other projects along a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Baluchistan, which is on the borders of Afghanistan and Iran, has rich mineral and natural gas reserves but is Pakistan's poorest province.
Separatists have for decades campaigned against the central government and what they see as the unfair exploitation of the province's resources, in particular natural gas and minerals. The BLA says the state is also taking over land belonging to indigenous people, and it has targeted Chinese-funded projects.
India was quick to condemn the attack, saying there was no justification for such violence.
Pakistan has long accused India of supporting the Baluchistan insurgents. India denies that.
India, however, has accused Pakistan of supporting separatist militants in the Indian part of Kashmir.
The attack was "reflective of a growing China focus by the BLA", said Mr Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.
In August, a BLA suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying Chinese mining workers in Baluchistan, wounding five people.
China has in recent years become one of Pakistan's most important investors and supporters with some US$60 billion (S$83 billion) poured into various projects as part of Beijing's continent-bridging Belt and Road Initiative.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang condemned the attack and said China "requests the Pakistani side take measures to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and organisations".