Pakistani Taliban attack that leaves 28 dead in Karachi shatters prospects of peace

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 11:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 4:08pm

Watch: Dozens killed after Taliban attack Pakistan's main airport

The Pakistani Taliban yesterday threatened more attacks after claiming responsibility for a brazen five-hour assault in which gunmen disguised as security guards stormed the international airport in Karachi, set off explosions and killed 18 people.

The night attack - in which all 10 militants were also killed - shattered prospects for a resumption of peace talks that officials had hoped could bring an end to the Pakistan Taliban's bloody campaign to overthrow Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's US-allied government.

The Taliban said the assault on the Jinnah International Airport was in response to air strikes on its strongholds near the Afghan border and as revenge for the death of their leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in November.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid also hinted that the true aim of the assault may have been to hijack aircraft.

"The main goal of this attack was to damage the government, including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations," Shahid said. "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."

Shahid warned that "such attacks will continue until there is a permanent ceasefire".

The attack began late on Sunday when 10 gunmen 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. As dawn broke yesterday, smoke from a fire could still be seen billowing in the air.

A cargo building was left completely gutted by the fire, 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. All the attackers wore explosives belts, three of which were detonated.

Besides the attackers, 18 people were killed, mostly airport security or other airport personnel.

During the battle, airport operations were suspended and all incoming flights were diverted. An Emirates flight bound for Dubai that was boarding when the assault started was cancelled, with the passengers safely escorted off the plane. The airport reopened yesterday afternoon.