A powerful car bomb exploded outside a KFC restaurant in the southern Pakistan city of Karachi on Tuesday, killing at least three people and injuring 12 others, police said. The ethnic Baluch nationalist group from southwestern Pakistan claimed responsibility.
Chakar Azam, spokesman for the Baluchistan National Army, said they detonated the car bomb outside a building where the offices of Pakistan Petroleum Limited are located -- also near a KFC restaurant.
"We claim responsibility for it," Azam said in a telephone call to The Associated Press. "We didn't want to hurt civilians."
"We did it to protest, and we did it to pressure the government to get our rights."
The ethnic army has launched numerous small bombings, mostly in southwestern Baluchistan province, in recent years. They are demanding the central government give more revenue to local people for natural gas extracted from their territory.
This is the first time it has claimed responsibility for an attack outside their province. Authorities are still investigating the claims.
Explosion during rush hour
The blast struck at about 8:45 a.m., as commuters were heading to shops and offices in the crowded business hub, the scene of numerous bombings in recent months that have killed more than a dozen people.
The blast badly damaged the restaurant, part of the global American fast food chain, burning and overturning several cars on the street in front.
Mushtaq Shah, Karachi’s police chief, told reporters the bomb was concealed in a car parked outside the restaurant.
Another police official, Sanaullah Abbasi, said three people were killed in the blast and 12 injured.
The bomb struck as commuters were heading to offices and shops in the crowded business hub. Hundreds of people gathered at the site near the Pearl Intercontinental Hotel that is popular with foreign tourists and business people.
Hotbed of militancy
“I can see that the KFC building is burning, six cars have caught fire and injured people are lying on the road,” said Saeed Mohammad, a traffic police official who rushed to the scene after hearing the blast.
Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, is a hotbed of Muslim militancy and previous bombings in the city have been linked to Islamic extremists opposed to Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s close ties to the United States. Pakistan has been a key ally in the struggle against Muslim extremists tied to al-Qaida and Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.
Pakistan’s information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, condemned the blast, calling it the work of the “enemies of Pakistan.”
Manzoor Mughal, a senior police investigator, said the blast left a six-foot crater in the parking lot and was apparently detonated by a timer. He said the KFC restaurant was the apparent target but refused to speculate on who might have been responsible.
Mughal said the blast also damaged offices of three Pakistani banks.
The attack came three days before Pakistan is hosting a conference of international donors to raise funds for victims of the devastating Oct. 8 quake that killed about 86,000 people in the country’s northwest and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
The restaurant occupies the ground floor of a government office building housing the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation. Firefighters prevented the blaze from spreading to other parts of the building.
Two bodies were pulled from the KFC restaurant while another man lay dead at the restaurant’s entrance, eyewitnesses said. The injured included security guards at the building and nearby banks.
It was the second attack on Western fast food restaurants in Karachi in recent months. Bombs struck KFC and McDonalds restaurants in Karachi in September, injuring three people in attacks suspected of being linked to a nationwide strike called by a hardline Islamic coalition opposed to Musharraf.
A KFC restaurant in Karachi was also burned in May, killing six workers inside during an outbreak of religious violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups in the city.