KARACHI - Pakistan's security forces said on Monday that they have relaunched a military operation at Karachi airport, as gunfire resumed several hours after they announced the end of a militant siege that left 24 dead.
An AFP reporter at the scene said that the shots could be heard again inside the airport -- where explosions and fires had erupted during the night -- and that dozens of trucks filled with soldiers were moving into the complex. "We have relaunched the operation and called in additional troops," said Sibtain Rizvi, spokesman for the Rangers paramilitary force, adding that one police officer had been injured in the new firing.
The initial assault at Jinnah International Airport in Pakistan's southern port city began late on Sunday and raged until dawn, when the military said that all 10 attackers had been killed. Equipped with suicide vests, grenades and rocket launchers, they had battled security forces in one of the most brazen attacks in years in Pakistan's biggest city. Among the 14 victims were four airport workers.
After the six-hour siege, military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa had declared in a tweet that the area was cleared with all vital assets intact. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but it came as talks between Pakistan and the Taliban, which began earlier this year, hit an impasse. Officials said the gunmen entered from two sides of the airport at around 11:00 pm on Sunday -- the terminal used for the hajj pilgrimage, and an engineering section close to an old terminal that is no longer in use.
An AFP reporter witnessed three huge blasts as suicide bombers detonated their explosives. Smoke was seen billowing from the airport as fires raged close to planes parked on the runway, while militants, some dressed in army uniform, clashed with the airport's security force that were backed by police, paramilitary squads and elite commandos.
A senior intelligence official said that it appeared the militants had aimed to hijack a plane that passengers were boarding at the main terminal, but that when they were repelled they went on the rampage. "The passenger plane at Jinnah terminal was their target and when they failed to reach there they destroyed two private terminals in frustration," he told AFP.
After the attack was quelled, a bomb disposal expert in full protective gear was seen walking from the site carrying a suicide vest and a bag full of hand grenades. Broken glass and spent gun magazines littered the engineering section where the first exchange of gunfire took place as smoke from grenade attacks began to die down.
The city's Jinnah Hospital said that 14 bodies had been brought there, including eight airport security personnel, a ranger, a civil aviation official and four PIA staff.