Attack on Pakistan airport leaves at least 23 dead

Chachu Ombara

JF-Expert Member
Dec 11, 2012

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Ten gunmen disguised as police guards attacked a terminal at Pakistan's busiest airport with machine guns and a rocket launcher during a five-hour siege that killed 13 people as explosions echoed into the night, while security forces retaliated and killed all the attackers, officials said Monday.

The airport attack came as a separate suicide bombing in the country's southwest killed 23 Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran, authorities said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, named after the founder of Pakistan, nor the suicide bombing in Baluchistan province. However, the attacks come as government-led peace talks with the local Taliban faction and other militants have floundered in recent weeks.

The airport attack began late Sunday and ended before dawn Monday in Karachi, a sprawling port city on Pakistan's southern coast, although officials said all the passengers had been evacuated. During the course of the attack, heavy gunfire and multiple explosions could be heard coming from the terminal, used for VIP flights and cargo, as militants and security forces battled for control. A major fire rose from the airport, illuminating the night sky in an orange glow as the silhouettes of jets could be seen.

The deadly operation was carried out by 10 militants, said the chief minister of Sindh province, Qaim Ali Shah.

"They were well trained. Their plan was very well thought out," he told reporters. He said they intended to destroy some of the aircraft and buildings but were not able to.

Rizwan Akhtar, the director general of paramilitary Rangers told reporters that the airport would be handed over to civilian authorities to resume normal operations later Monday. He said the attackers apparently were Uzbeks but authorities were still trying to determine their identities and nationalities.

The spokesman for the Pakistani military, Gen. Asim Bajwa, said on Twitter that no aircraft were damaged and that as a precautionary measure, security forces were sweeping the airport before operations would be returned to the Civil Aviation Authority and airport police.

At least some of the gunmen wore the uniforms of the Airport Security Force that protects the nation's airports, said an official who briefed journalists near the airport. He said all were strapped with explosives. He said that when a guard one of them, the explosives strapped to his body went off. The official said another attacker also blew up after being shot at by security forces.

The official described himself as being with one of the country's intelligence agencies but declined to give his name.

After storming into the airport grounds, gunmen took shelter in two sections of the airport, said senior police officer Ghulam Qadir Thebo.

"The blast you heard a little while ago was when our police party went to pick up a body (and) one of the attackers blew himself up," Thebo said

Authorities seized four machine guns and a rocket launcher, Thebo said. He said the billowing smoke and flames was from oil that had caught fire.

Dr. Seemi Jamali from Jinnah Hospital in Karachi said 13 bodies had been brought to the hospital from the fighting. She said nine were Airport Security Force personnel, one was a member of the paramilitary Rangers, one was from the police, one was an employee of the Civil Aviation Authority and another was from the state-run Pakistan International Airlines.

Authorities diverted incoming flights and suspended all flight operations. A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said the airport would be closed until at least Monday night.

Local news channels reported Monday morning that authorities were still searching the airport buildings and intermittent firing was still being heard.

Sarmad Hussain, a PIA employee, told The Associated Press he was at the airport at the time of the attack.

"I was working at my office when I heard big blasts — several blasts — and then there were heavy gunshots," Hussain said. He said he and a colleague jumped out of a window to get away, and his colleague broke his leg.

Karachi is Pakistan's largest city and has been the site of frequent militant attacks in the past. It is the country's economic heart and any militant activity targeting the airport likely would strike a heavy blow at foreign investment in the country.

In May 2011, militants waged an 18-hour siege at a naval base in Karachi, killing 10 people in an assault that deeply embarrassed the armed forces.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday night's attack. Pakistan's government has been trying to negotiate a peace deal with local Taliban fighters and other militants mostly based in the northwest who have been waging war against the government. But the talks have had little success, raising fears of a backlash of attacks across the country.

Security officials in Karachi had feared that if the talks broke down, their city would be a likely spot for any militant retribution. The Pakistani Taliban and their allies increasingly are gaining a foothold in Karachi.

In the suicide bombing, four bombers targeted Shiite pilgrims staying at a hotel in the town of Tuftan near the Iranian border, said Baluchistan province Home Minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti. One bomber was killed by security officials traveling with the pilgrims, but the other three managed to get inside the hotel where they blew themselves up in an attack that also wounded 10 people, he said.

It wasn't immediately clear whether there was a connection between the airport assault and the Baluchistan attack. But the attacks were sadly familiar for Pakistan, which has seen thousands killed by militants in recent years.
Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Abdul Sattar in Quetta, and Zarar Khan, Asif Shahzad and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.


Source: Attack on Pakistan airport leaves at least 23 dead


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Militants launched a brazen attack on Karachi's international airport, killing at least 27 people and seizing control of part of the airport in Pakistan's largest city for more than five hours.

The well-coordinated attack Sunday involved 10 assailants who were armed with grenades, rocket launchers and assault weapons, authorities said. Some of them were also said to be wearing suicide vests. They battled Pakistani security forces through the night before all the assailants were slain, officials said.

Several large fires broke out at the airport, but all airline passengers escaped unharmed, according to a Pakistani army spokesman.

But the siege, one of the worst security breaches at a Pakistani airport, is raising serious questions about the country's ability to protect its major transit hubs amid the persistent threat of terrorism.

The attack comes as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country's military have been considering a major offensive against the Pakistani Taliban, which has been waging a bloody insurgency.

"This act of terror is unforgivable," Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistan's defence minister, told local television reporters. "The state will give an appropriate response to such cowardly acts of terror. Those who plan and those who execute the terrorist attacks will be defeated."

There was no immediate assertion of responsibility for the attack.

Rizwan Akhtar, the director general of paramilitary Rangers, said the attackers apparently were Uzbeks but authorities were still trying to determine their identities and nationalities.

At least some of the gunmen wore the uniforms of the Airport Security Force that protects the nation’s airports, said an official who briefed journalists near the airport. He said all were strapped with explosives. He said that when a guard one of them, the explosives strapped to his body went off. The official said another attacker also blew up after being shot at by security forces.

It was unclear how such an assault could occur at what is supposed to be a heavily fortified airport. The attack, which began at 11pm (local time) and lasted until dawn, is likely to be another blow to Pakistan's efforts to lure international business to help its struggling economy.

"I would not want to send any nonmilitary, non-law-enforcement personnel into that area at this moment," Terrance Gainer, a security consultant and former chief of the US Capitol Police, said in an interview. He said US security and anti-terrorism officials would undoubtedly be scrutinising the attack to learn how it occurred.

According to preliminary information from Pakistani security officials, the attack began when about five assailants gained access to Jinnah International Airport, apparently shooting their way through a gate near the old terminal. At least five others entered separately; they may have blasted their way through a wall near the cargo area, officials said.

Amjad Shah, a Karachi police official, said at least some of the militants were wearing uniforms used by security forces.

Once inside, the militants began lobbing grenades and took up positions near the runway and in the airport's cargo area. One senior Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security issues, said some of the militants intended to hijack a plane but were unsuccessful.

All arriving flights were quickly diverted from the airport, which serves 6 million passengers annually. Three international flights were scheduled to leave between 11pm and 1 am, going to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Bangkok; and Dubai. But all passengers at the airport were evacuated safely, according to Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, the spokesman for Pakistan's military and security agencies.

About 90 minutes after the attack began, hundreds of Pakistani army commandos arrived on the scene and began battling the militants.

Hospital officials said that at least 13 people were killed by the assailants — nine airport security personnel, a Pakistan International Airlines employee, a paramilitary Ranger, a police sub-inspector and an official with Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority.

About 5am Monday, Bajwa reported that the siege had ended after all the attackers were killed. Bajwa said that eight of them were shot and that two blew themselves up once cornered.

Earlier in the night, at least some of the militants had initially been searching for the airport's fuel storage facility, according to one security official. For much of the night, Pakistani television news stations aired footage of two-story-high flames shooting over the top of aircraft parked near the runway.

The Dawn News channel aired an interview with an airport employee who said he escaped from a maintenance shed by climbing onto the roof.

Abi Qaimkhani, a spokesman for the aviation authority, said that some planes had been hit by gunfire but that none caught fire.

The Karachi airport was expected to reopen around midday Monday.

Karachi is home to thousands of suspected Pakistani Taliban militants, which has made it once of Pakistan's most violent and volatile cities.

In recent days, security officials had warned of the likelihood of a major terrorist attack in Karachi in response to Pakistani military operations against insurgents in North Waziristan near the Afghan border.

Over the past two weeks, more than a dozen Pakistani soldiers have been killed in attacks near the border. In response, the army has launched airstrikes in the region and has stepped up its shelling of suspected militant strongholds inside Afghan territory. But the army has stopped short of a major ground assault on Taliban strongholds, which some Pakistani officials fear could lead to even more lethal attacks in Pakistani cities.

Jonah Blank, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp., said in an emailed statement to reporters that the Taliban is most likely to blame for the attack.

But Pakistan is home to more than two dozen militant groups, including Al Qaeda, and Blank cautioned that "the list of potential culprits is long."

In a separate attack Sunday night, at least 20 Shiite pilgrims were killed in the western province of Baluchistan when two suicide bombers struck near the bus they were travelling in, officials said. The attack occurred near Pakistan's border with Iran.

Source: The Washington Post, with AP - 27 dead as gunmen attack Karachi airport |
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