Pakistani Taliban fighters who stormed Karachi airport were prepared for a drawn-out siege

Militants who stormed Karachi airport, killing 18 people, had plenty of ammunition and food and may have aimed to hijack an airliner

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 1:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 10:14am

Their backpacks stuffed with food and ammunition, a squad of highly trained Taliban fighters clearly expected that their attack on Pakistan's biggest airport could become a protracted siege.

Seven of the Pakistani Taliban militants, believed to be ethnic Uzbeks aged in their early 20s, were shot dead by Pakistani forces after five hours of intense gunfire. Three more militants died after detonating the suicide-bomb belts they had hidden under the airport security force uniforms they wore as disguise.

Another 18 people were killed at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport in the five-hour assault which ended at dawn yesterday.

The assault, which a Pakistani Taliban statement suggested may have had the goal of hijacking an aircraft, started just before midnight on Sunday.

Armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the 10 militants shot their way into the airport after arriving in two minivans.

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

A senior police officer said that the militants then split into two groups, with one attacking a gate called Fokker to create a diversion and the other storming the cargo terminal.

Another senior police officer, Raja Umar Khattab, said the attackers then broke into pairs and pressed the assault.

"That's why their bodies were found lying in pairs," he said. "It seems there was some ill planning on their part. They did fire two rockets but they didn't hit their targets. They wasted 10 men but couldn't inflict serious damage on the airport."

The militants' plan appeared to be to make it into the main passenger terminal but their advance was disrupted by the unexpectedly strong resistance of security forces. A protracted gun battle followed as the militants took up positions around the cargo terminal.

The sound of gunfire and small explosions created panic among passengers and people in the arrival and departure areas of the main terminal.

Kareem Bakhsh, who was in the waiting area to see off a cousin on a flight, said that he heard gunshots and blasts quite close to him. The security forces responded swiftly, he said. "Rangers, police and army were deployed at all entry and exit points."

Almost all passengers were quickly whisked away from the airport and flights were diverted as the gun battle continued.

"The militants were not able to achieve their target of hitting the aeroplanes as they were kept engaged by the security forces, [that] responded very quickly," said a security source.

He said the militants were highly trained and carried large backpacks filled with dried fruit and water, suggesting they were prepared for a long siege.

The official said all the attackers were wearing similar running shoes - a trademark feature of Taliban insurgents.

"It would have been much more disastrous if the militants had reached the main terminal building and taken hostages. There were hundreds of passengers and staff members present at the main terminal at the time," the official said.

By dawn, the attack was over, with all 10 militants dead.

People stranded at the airport finally heaved a sigh of relief, said Kamal Faridi, an employee with the UN's Pakistan office. "We were not allowed to leave the place, but when army assumed charge at the airport, it became easier to breathe and we felt relieved," Faridi said.

The attack did claim the lives of 18 people, among them Fakhrul Khan, 27, a Pakistan International Airlines telecom engineer.

"He loved life, he loved everyone," his friend Syed Amaar said. "He was the kind of person who could make anyone laugh, and now he is gone. We are crying but he cannot make us laugh again."

Amid preparations for his friend's funeral, Amaar expressed what many Pakistanis feel.

"We are all in a state of shock, but we wish that the country should see no more attacks and no more precious lives should be lost," he said.

Additional reporting by Xinhua