KARACHI: Heavily armed militants attacked Pakistan’s busiest airport in Karachi Sunday night, killing at least 12 people as flights were suspended and the army was called in, officials said.
The assault on Jinnah International Airport has raised fears about the possibility of a prolonged siege similar to other brazen attacks on key installations in recent years.
A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, Abid Qaimkhani told AFP: “Four to five terrorists have managed to reach the runway, they are heavily armed with ammunition and grenades and Airport Security Force commandos have cordoned off the area along with police and rangers.
“A gun battle is continuing between terrorists and forces,” he added.
A paramilitary ranger engaged in the operation said the militants had entered through the Engineering Section of the Pakistan International Airlines near the airport’s old terminal.
“They gunned down the ASF security before entering,” he said.
Army spokesman Colonel Nayer said that troops had been deployed from the Malir cantonment near their airport. “They have reached the scene,” he said.
An AFP reporter at the airport said a truck-full of army commandos had arrived and that the gunfire which was previously fierce had now grown sporadic.
Broken glass and used gun magazines littered the engineering section where the first exchange of gunfire had taken place as smoke from grenade attacks began to die down.
Witness Sarmad Hussain, a PIA employee, told AFP: “I heard fierce firing and then saw the terrorists firing at security forces. I don’t know a lot more than that. Thank God I am alive, this is very scary.”
A police official who did not wish to be identified said an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade had been recovered.
The director of the city’s main Jinnah Hospital, Dr Seemi Jamali, told AFP five dead bodies had been brought in and the hospital had declared an emergency.
She added that three were ASF personnel and two were civilian employees of PIA, and that seven others had been wounded.
A spokesman for PIA, Mashud Tajwar added that two domestic flights bound for Karachi had been diverted to nearby airports.
There has so far been no claim of responsibility for Sunday night’s incident but similar raids in the past have been claimed by Taliban militants who rose up against the Pakistani state in 2007 in an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.
Taliban gunmen attacked a Karachi naval base in 2011, destroying two US-made Orion aircraft and killing 10 personnel in a 17-hour siege.
The attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, took place as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government tries to engage Taliban militants in negotiations to end years of fighting.
“The old terminal of Karachi airport was attacked by militants,” a senior police official told Reuters.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Over half a dozen armed men made towards the runway from the backside of the airport,” said a private television channel, quoting a witness.
Meanwhile, two huge blasts rocked the airport, which was under siege by militants until the filing of this report. An AFP reporter at the scene said the militants were armed with guns and grenades, though the blasts are feared to be suicide bomb explosions.
Peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban – separate to but allied with the Afghan Taliban – have failed in recent months, dampening hopes of reaching a negotiated settlement with the insurgency, which continues attacks against government and security targets.
According to other reports, four armed attackers hurled grenades and opened fire as they entered the tarmac from the Fokker Gate. This led to an exchange of fire between ASF personnel and the gunmen. As a result, three attackers were killed. The Malir SSP had confirmed presence of four armed assailants at the airport, until the filing of this report. Smoke could be seen billowing towards the sky from the tarmac of Jinnah Terminal.
Gunshots and blasts were also being heard with intervals outside the airport until the last reports came in. The attackers are said to have had fake ID cards of ASF, Online news agency reported.
Heavy contingents of police and Rangers surrounded the airport and routes to the airport were sealed. Staff was being rescued by the security personnel and moved to safer areas.
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