Pakistan admits bus blast that killed 9 Chinese could be terror attack
A day after claiming that a gas leak within a bus resulted in the death of nine Chinese nationals, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Thursday that traces of explosives had been found in the vehicle and terrorism couldn’t be ruled out in the incident.
Beijing pushed back strongly in the face of Islamabad’s claim on Wednesday, describing the incident as a “bomb attack” and demanding punishment for the perpetrators and steps to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel, institutions and projects in Pakistan.
Thirteen people, including nine Chinese nationals, were killed when a bus taking workers to the 4,300-MW Dasu hydropower project was hit by a blast in Upper Kohistan area of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
“Initial investigations into Dassu incident have now confirmed traces of explosives. Terrorism cannot be ruled out, PM is personally supervising all developments in this regard. Govt is in close coordination with Chinese embassy we are committed to fight menace of terrorism together,” Chaudhry tweeted on Thursday.
In the face of pressure from China on Wednesday to investigate the incident, Pakistan’s Foreign Office had said in a statement that the bus carrying Chinese workers had “plunged into a ravine after a mechanical failure resulting in leakage of gas that caused a blast”.
Experts cited images of the bus shared on social media and said the damage appeared to have been caused by an explosion, instead of a fall into a ravine. They also questioned the contention that the bus was powered by gas.
A statement on the incident issued by the Chinese embassy in Islamabad referred to an “attack on the Dasu Hydropower Project” and said a “Chinese company’s shuttle bus...was hit by a blast on its way to the construction site” in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The statement said the Chinese embassy had contacted the Pakistani military and foreign and interior ministries and sought steps to “strengthen security protection for the Chinese citizens, institutions and projects in Pakistan” and a thorough investigation of the incident.
“The Chinese embassy in Pakistan reminds Chinese citizens, enterprises and projects in Pakistan to stay on alert, pay close attention to the local security situation, take strict precautions, and stop going out unless necessary,” the statement said.
Asked about the issue during a regular foreign ministry news briefing in Beijing, spokesperson Zhao Lijian was equally blunt. He said China was “astonished to learn that the incident has caused heavy Chinese casualties”.
The Communist Party of China and the Chinese government attach high importance to the incident, and no effort should be spared to “promptly find out what happened, conduct in-depth assessment of security risks, and do our utmost to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel,” Zhao said.
“We have asked the Pakistani side to lose no time in conducting a thorough investigation, properly transfer and treat the wounded, strengthen security measures, eliminate security risks, and ensure the safety and security of Chinese personnel, institutions and projects in Pakistan,” he said.
China will send a “cross-departmental joint working group” to Pakistan to help investigate the incident, Zhao said.
Hours before Chaudhry’s tweet, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had maintained that the incident was an accident during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of a conference in Uzbekistan.
“Preliminary investigation shows that it’s an accident and no background of terrorist attacks has been found,” Qureshi was quoted as saying in a readout from the Chinese foreign ministry on his meeting with Wang.