The assault on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan's
sprawling commercial hub of 18 million people, all but destroys
prospects for peace talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the
government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
It also deals a heavy blow to Sharif's efforts to attract foreign
investors to revive economic growth and raises questions about
security at the country's main installations.
The attack began just before midnight when 10 gunmen wearing
military uniforms and armed with automatic rifles and
rocket-propelled grenades shot their way into the airport's old
terminal, which is used mainly for charter and executive flights.
Gun battles raged through the night until security forces regained
control of the airport at dawn. Passengers were evacuated and all
flights were diverted.
Director general of the military's media wing, Asim Bajwa, said the
airport had been cleared and would soon resume operations. The
government said security was being stepped up at all airports.
"We need to keep extremely vigilant," Shujaat Azeem, special
assistant to Sharif on aviation, said in a statement.
The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of insurgent groups fighting to
topple the government and set up a sharia state, said they carried
out the attack in response to air strikes on their strongholds near
the Afghan border and suggested their mission was to hijack a
"It is a message to the Pakistan government that we are still alive
to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on
their villages," said Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman.
"The main goal of this attack was to damage the government,
including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations."
Pakistan's paramilitary force said that the attackers were ethnic
Uzbeks. Pakistani officials often blame foreign militants holed up
in lawless areas on the Afghan border for staging attacks alongside
the Pakistani Taliban around the country.
"Three militants blew themselves up and seven were killed by
security forces," Rizwan Akhtar, the regional head of the
paramilitary Rangers, said in televised remarks. "The militants
appear to be Uzbek."
The death toll included airport security guards and workers with
Pakistan International Airlines.
In a separate unrelated attack, at least 22 Shi'ite pilgrims were
killed in a suicide attack near Pakistan's border with Iran, a local
official said. A radical Sunni group claimed responsibility for the
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Sharif came to power last year promising to find a negotiated
solution to years of violence but after the latest attack on the
airport the resumption of the peace process looked unlikely.
Karachi is Pakistan's biggest city and commercial hub, home to a
vibrant stock exchange, the central bank and the country's main
port. But it is also a violent and chaotic place where Taliban
militants and criminal gangs operate freely underground.
At the airport, gun battles went on for five hours and television
pictures showed fire raging as ambulances ferried casualties away.
At least three loud explosions were heard as militants wearing
suicide vests blew themselves up.
By dawn on Monday, the army said the airport had been secured but
heavy smoke rose above the building.
"Ten militants aged between 20 and 25 have been killed by security
forces," said a spokesman for the Rangers. "A large cache of arms
and ammunition has been recovered from the militants.
"A sweep operation is being carried out at the airport which is
expected to be completed by midday (0700 GMT)."
Officials said no aircraft had been damaged.
Peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban had
failed in recent months, already dampening hopes of reaching a
negotiated settlement with the insurgents, who continue attacks
against government and security targets.
Pakistan's Taliban are allied with but separate from the Afghan
(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Additional reporting by Gul Yousufzai;
Editing by Robert Birsel)
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