Monday, June 9, 2014

Pakistan: Taliban Militants Storm Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Kill at Least 27 in All-Night Attack

According to Reuters, Taliban militants disguised as security forces stormed Pakistan's busiest airport in Karachi on Sunday (June 8), killing at least 27 people in a night-long battle at one of the country's most high-profile targets.

The assault on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan's sprawling commercial hub of 18 million people, all but sabotaged 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 local time when ten gunmen wearing military uniforms and armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) 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. 

COMMENT: Data on the total number of injured will be updated later today.

The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of insurgent groups fighting to topple the government and set up sharia law, 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 an airliner, a mission they failed in fulfilling.

Pakistan's paramilitary force said that the assailants were ethnic Uzbeks. Officials often blame foreign militants holed up in lawless areas on the Afghan border for staging attacks alongside the Pakistani Taliban nationwide.

"Three militants detonated themselves and seven were killed by security forces," Rizwan Akhtar, the regional head of the paramilitary Rangers, said in televised remarks.
The death toll included airport security guards and workers with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

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 attack.
Sharif came to power in 2013 promising to find a negotiated solution to years of violence, but after the latest attack on the airport the resumption of the peace process deemed moot.

Karachi is Pakistan's biggest city and commercial hub, home to a vibrant stock exchange, the Central Bank and the country's main port.

At least three massive detonations were heard as militants wearing suicide belts blew themselves up.
"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.

Officials said no aircraft had been damaged.

Pakistan's Taliban are linked, yet independent from the Afghan Taliban.