Monday, June 9, 2014

Pakistan: Update--Death Toll on Karachi Airport Rises to 29, Those Injured Still Pending

According to The Associated Press, the Pakistani Taliban threatened more violence Monday (June 9) after a five-hour assault on the nation's busiest airport killed 29 people — including all ten assailants — raising a new challenge for a US ally attempting to end years of fighting that has claimed thousands of lives.

With recently peace efforts stalled, the cautious government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may be dragged closer to a decision on whether to take on the militants in earnest across a country with a long history of ambiguity when it comes to dealing with militancy.

Karachi International Airport, Pakistan's business center, will no doubt discourage foreign investment for some time.

The Taliban said the assault on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, the group's spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, warned that "such attacks will continue until there is a permanent cease-fire."

COMMENT: As this posting is filed, we still do not have an accurate account of those injured.

Wishful thinking at best for the foreseeable future.

The attack began late on Sunday (June 8) when ten gunmen, many disguised as cops, 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.

At least some of the gunmen wore the uniform of the Airport Security Force, said an official near the terminal. All the attackers wore vests of explosives, some of which were detonated when they were shot at by police.

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 finally regained control of the airport, and all 10 attackers were dead, Akhtar said. Some of the attackers appeared to be Uzbeks, he added, but officials are still investigating.

After restoring the airport to its original condition, Karachi was reopened by Monday afternoon.

Shahid, the spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan — as the Pakistani Taliban are known — said the attack was to avenge the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, the Taliban chief who was killed in an American drone strike in November 2013.

Mehsud's death was the last major killing of a militant commander under the controversial drone program. The AP reported in May that the program has largely wound down over Pakistan, as there has not been a drone attack since December 2013.

Karachi has been the site of previous attacks, including one in 2011 against a naval base that lasted for 18 hours and killed ten people, deeply embarrassing the military.