QUETTA, Pakistan — A powerful bomb exploded in the parking area of a luxury hotel in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Wednesday, killing at least four people and wounding at least nine others, police said.
Security forces rushed to the Serena hotel and no one was being allowed to go near the site of the blast. Police said rescuers transported victims to nearby hospitals. Footage on Pakistan news channels showed burning cars.
Hours after the attack, the Pakistani Taliban in a statement claimed responsibility, saying it was a suicide attack. The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, is a separate insurgent group from the Afghan Taliban.
Senior police official Azhar Akram said officers were trying to determine whether the bomb was planted in a vehicle that was parked in the hotel’s parking lot. He provided no further details, saying police were still investigating. Other security officials said the bomb exploded minutes after a car entered the parking lot, and authorities were investigating to determine whether it was a suicide attack.
Wasim Beg, a spokesperson at the provincial health department, said four people died and 12 were wounded in the bombing.
It was unclear who was behind the attack. Southwestern Baluchistan province is the scene of a long-running insurgency by secessionist groups like the Baluchistan Liberation Front and the Baluchistan Liberation Army. They have for decades staged attacks to press their demands for independence. The Pakistani Taliban and Islamic State group also have a presence there.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the provincial capital.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed quickly blamed neighbouring India for the hotel bombing, although he provided no evidence to back up the allegation. He told a Pakistani Geo news channel that Pakistan had only one enemy and it was neighbouring India, which he alleged was behind the bombing. Ahmed said they had received intelligence about possible attacks in the capital, Islamabad and elsewhere and the information had been shared with relevant authorities to beef up security
Liaquat Shahwani, a provincial government spokesman, called the attack an act of terrorism. "Terrorists want to disrupt peace in Baluchistan. Those who don't want to see progress and prosperity in the Baluchistan province are responsible for this act of terrorism."
Jam Kamal Khan, chief minister in Baluchistan, took to Twitter to condemn the bombing. Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said authorities were investigating and a statement would be issued later.
Baluchistan’s Home Minister Ziaullah Langove said Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong was staying at the hotel at the time of the bombing but it was unclear what the motive was behind the attack. He said no guests were hurt but that a police officer was among four people who died in the attack.
The hotel is frequented by foreigners as it is the city's only luxury hotel and is considered safe.
Arbab Kamran Kasi, a doctor at Quetta's main hospital, said about a dozen wounded were being brought their and they declared an emergency at the hospital to handle victims.
The bombing in Quetta came hours after Pakistan and neighbouring Iran opened a new border crossing point in Baluchistan to improve trade and economic relations. Baluchistan shares a border with Iran and Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Taliban have been targeting the military and civilians across the country since 2001, when this Islamic nation joined the U.S.-led war on terror following the Sept. 11 attack in the United States. Since then, the insurgents have declared war on the government of Pakistan and have carried out numerous attacks. Pakistan’s militant groups are often interlinked with those across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has nearly completed a fence along the border with Afghanistan, which Islamabad says is necessary to prevent militant attacks from both sides. Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan often accuse each other of turning a blind eye to Islamic militants operating along the porous frontier.
Associated Press journalist Abdul Sattar reported this story in Quetta and AP writer Munir Ahmed reported from Islamabad.