A bomb apparently intended for a high-ranking South African emissary was detonated by bomb disposal experts after it was discovered yesterday on the grounds of the Qatar Embassy in Northwest Washington.

The bomb, found on the embassy doorstep by a maid and a gardener shortly before noon, reportedly bore the address of the nearby home of Sybrand Visagie, South Africa's top representative to the International Monetary Fund.

District police would not confirm whether the bomb was addressed to the Visagie home. However, Saud Alameri, wife of the Qatar ambassador, said that when the maid found the package containing the bomb, she noticed that it bore an address down the street on Indian Lane.

That address is the Visagie home.

"After the maid noticed that it was the wrong address, she tried to the send the gardener to find the right one, but the gardener said, 'There is a bad smell and I can't take it with me,' " Alameri said from her home. At that point, she said, police were called.

Police and FBI officials said no groups had claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing.

Both a police bomb squad and an Army explosives unit were dispatched to the scene. The bomb, which an Army official desribed as "some type of fire bomb," was detonated in a truck at about 2:30 p.m., according to an Army spokesperson.

Visagie, who is scheduled to return to his native South Africa in 10 days after two years at the International Monetary Fund, could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the Visagie phone and identified herself as his wife said that the couple had been out when the package was delivered to the Qatar Embassy and had "no idea" what circumstance surrounded the incident.

"Good Lord, we just got home a few minutes ago, and I don't even know what's happening," she said. "Goodness me, everyday something goes on in the world, doesn't it?"

Last Thursday, the Visagie home was the site of a party for representatives attending the 36th Annual World Bank-International Monetary Fund Conference.

Always controversial, South Africa's apartheid policies prompted violent protests in the United States when a South African rugby team toured here last month. There is no evidence, however, that the protests against the sports tour and yesterday's bombing attempt are linked.