Karachi airport shutdown after two attacks

PakistanI Taleban insurgents yesterday claimed responsibility for an attack on a security academy at Karachi’s airport.

Security forces stand guard at Karachis international airport yesterday. Picture: AP
Security forces stand guard at Karachis international airport yesterday. Picture: AP
Security forces stand guard at Karachis international airport yesterday. Picture: AP

The admission came less than 48 hours after an all-night siege by Taleban fighters killed more than 30 people at what is Pakistan’s busiest airport.

The initial assault late on Sunday night destroyed prospects for peace talks between the Taleban and the government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif and triggered speculation that the army might opt for an all-out offensive against Taleban strongholds.

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Then yesterday a group of gunmen on motorbikes opened fire on an academy run by the Airports Security Force (ASF) and fled after security forces retaliated. Nobody was hurt, ­officials said.

“We accept responsibility for another successful attack against the government,” said Pakistani Taleban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. “We are successfully achieving all our targets and we will go on carrying on many more such attacks.”

Ten militants disguised as security force members and armed with rocket-propelled grenades broke into the airport in the first attack in which at least 34 people were killed.

All flights in and out of the airport, which serves a city of 18 million, were cancelled for the second time in two days, though most were restored by last night.

Earlier yesterday, military fighter jets bombed Taleban positions on the Afghan border.

“Nine terrorist hideouts were destroyed by early morning military air strikes near the Pakistan-Afghan border,” the army’s press office said, adding that 25 militants were killed.

The Pakistani Taleban is allied with the Afghan jihadists of the same name but is focused on toppling the Pakistan government and establishing an Islamic state. The Afghan Taleban was ousted from power by the 2001 US-led invasion but has continued a guerrilla war aiming to regain power after the US and its troops withdraw by the end of this year.

It is unclear if the latest Pakistani airstrikes signalled the start of a broader offensive in the North Waziristan region where the al-Qaeda-linked Taleban is based, or indeed if they had been carried out in retaliation for the airport attack.

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The air force has periodically conducted raids to bomb Pakistani Taleban positions in the lawless, ethnic Pashtun region but has yet to launch a major offensive. The semi-autonomous Pashtun lands along the border, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, have never been brought under the full control of any government.

The Pakistani Taleban, a loose alliance of insurgent groups united by anti-state ideology, said it carried out the first attack on Karachi airport in response to airstrikes on its strongholds.

At the airport, rescue workers earlier recovered the bodies of seven people trapped inside a cargo building. “They are charred beyond identification,” said an official.

The victims had taken refuge in the cargo shed to hide from the gunfire but got trapped when the building caught fire, the official said.

“They [security forces] were busy killing militants and clearing the area, nobody bothered to rescue these trapped men,” said Abdul Rehman, whose brother was among those killed.

“They could have been saved if timely rescue efforts had been made.”