KARACHI: Thirty people were killed as Pakistan’s military fought an all-night battle yesterday with Taliban gunmen who besieged Karachi airport as it emerged up to seven workers could still be trapped in cold storage facilities.
The assault has left Pakistan’s nascent peace process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in tatters as officials in the country’s northwest reported that some 25,000 had fled the restive North Waziristan tribal district in the past 48 hours, fearing a long-awaited ground offensive.
Ten militants were among the dead in the assault on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, officials said, as Pakistan’s biggest city witnessed a return of the kind of spectacular offensive waged before by the TTP during an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives since 2007.
Late yesterday families of seven airport workers blocked Karachi’s a main road demanding that authorities work towards freeing their relatives who were trapped in cold-storage facilities to escape the carnage.
“We are looking into this and according to the families some seven people were trapped inside the cold storage and were in contact with the families on cell phone,” said Abid Qaimkhani, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority.
The attack began just before midnight on Sunday. At around dawn, the military said that all 10 of the attackers had been killed.
Some of the gunmen were dressed in army uniform, as authorities put their mangled bodies, assault rifles, grenades and rocket launchers on show for the press. At least three detonated their suicide vests, witnesses said, and one severed head formed part of the grisly display.
But after authorities initially declared the airport cleared, an AFP reporter witnessed fresh gunfire break out inside the airport — where explosions and fires had erupted during the night — prompting security forces to relaunch the operation.
The bodies of the 18 victims of the Taliban assault — including 11 airport security guards and four workers from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) — were taken to a Karachi hospital where another 26 wounded people were being treated, a hospital official said. The charred remains of two CAA employees were later recovered last night, bringing the toll up to 30, Qaimkhani said.
PIA spokesman Mashud Tajwar said no airline passengers were caught up in the incident.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office issued a statement “commending the bravery” of security forces and saying normal flight operations would resume in the afternoon, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai — who is battling his own Taliban insurgency — condemned the attack in a statement.
ISLAMABAD: Their backpacks stuffed with food and ammunition, highly trained Taliban fighters clearly expected it to be a protracted siege. The Pakistani Taliban said they carried out the attack in response to air strikes in their strongholds near the Afghan border and that their mission was to hijack a passenger plane.
“The main goal of this attack was to damage the government, including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations,” said Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman.