Pakistan Taliban claim deadly airport attack

By Adil Jawad

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 9 2014 8:35 a.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, June 9 2014 8:35 a.m. MDT

Pakistani army doctors attend victims of a suicide attack, at a military hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Monday, June 9, 2014. Four suicide 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 many people, he said.

Arshad Butt, Associated Press

KARACHI, Pakistan — The Pakistani Taliban on Monday threatened more attacks after claiming responsibility for a brazen five-hour assault on the country's busiest airport in which gunmen disguised as police guards stormed the international airport in Karachi, set off explosions and killed 18 people.

The claim further diminished prospects for a resumption of peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban that officials had hoped could bring an end to the group's bloody, years-long campaign seeking to overthrow the country's U.S.-allied government. The insurgency has shaken the stability of the nuclear-armed country, which borders Afghanistan, where international forces have been fighting the Afghan Taliban for more than a decade.

Peace talks floundered in recent weeks, and the Taliban called off a cease-fire they had declared during the negotiations. Since then, Pakistani troops have hit the group's hideouts with airstrikes in the country's troubled northwestern region, killing dozens of suspected militants. Residents claim several civilians were also killed in the strikes.

The Taliban said the assault on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and the country's economic heart, was in revenge for the killing last November of the militant group's leader in a U.S. drone strike

In a telephone call to The Associated Press, the group's spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, warned that "such attacks will continue until there is a permanent ceasefire."

The attack began late Sunday when 10 gunmen, at least some disguised as policemen, stormed into a section of the sprawling airport where a terminal for VIP flights and cargo is located. They opened fire with machine guns and rocket launchers, sparking a battle with security forces that lasted until around dawn.

Heavy gunfire and multiple explosions were heard coming from the terminal amid the fighting. A major fire rose from the airport, illuminating the night sky in an orange glow as the silhouettes of jets could be seen. As dawn broke Monday, smoke could still be seen billowing in the air.

At least some of the gunmen wore the uniform of the Airport Security Force, said an official at the scene near the terminal. All the attackers wore explosives vests, some of which were detonated when they were shot at by the police, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

A cargo building was left completely gutted by the fire and the explosions, said Rizwan Akhtar, the chief of Pakistan's elite paramilitary Rangers.

Just before dawn, security forces regained control of the airport, and all 10 attackers were dead, Akhtar said. He said some of the attackers appeared to be Uzbeks but officials were still investigating to determine their identity and nationality.

At least 18 people were killed besides the attackers, mostly airport security or other airport personnel, according to Seemi Jamali from Karachi's Jinnah Hospital.

During the battle, airport operations were suspended and all incoming flights were diverted. An Emirates flight in Karachi bound for Dubai had to be cancelled and passengers were escorted off the plane because of the fighting, the Dubai-based carrier said.

Late Monday afternoon, the airport reopened and was fully functioning, according to Shujaat Azeem, the prime minister's adviser for civil aviation.

Shahid, the spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan — as the Pakistani Taliban are known — said the attack was to avenge the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the Taliban chief who died in an American drone strike last November.

Mehsud's death was the last major killing of a militant commander under the controversial drone program.

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