December 20, 2014
Taliban gunmen kill at least 27 in deadly attack on Pakistani airport
Taliban militants disguised as security forces stormed Pakistan's busiest airport last night and at least 27 people were killed in a dramatic night-long battle at one of the country's most high-profile targets.
The assault on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan's sprawling commercial hub of 18 million people, all but destroys prospects for peace talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
It also deals a heavy blow to Sharif's efforts to attract foreign investors to revive economic growth and raises questions about security at the country's main installations.
In a possible change of tack, the Taliban said their mission was to hijack a plane - a break from their usual pattern of roadside bombs and suicide bomb attacks.
"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.
The violence began just before midnight when 10 gunmen wearing military uniforms and armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades shot their way into the terminal building after arriving at the cargo terminal in two mini-vans.
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, police said.
"They operated in pairs. That's why their bodies were found lying in pairs," said senior police officer Raja Umar Khattab, adding the militants had fired rockets at passenger planes but missed. "It seems there was some ill-planning on their part."
Officials said no aircraft had been damaged.
Another security source said the militants were highly trained and carried large backpacks filled with dried fruit and water, suggesting they were in for a long siege.
Gun battles raged through the night until security forces regained control of the airport at dawn. Passengers were evacuated and all flights were diverted. The government said security was being stepped up at all airports.
"We need to keep extremely vigilant," Shujaat Azeem, special assistant to Sharif on aviation, said in a statement.
The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of insurgent groups fighting to topple the government and set up a sharia state, said they carried out the attack in response to air strikes on their strongholds near the Afghan border.