PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Air Force base inside the Bacha Khan International Airport came under a daring attack by militants, with a simultaneous rocket barrage, resulting in the killing of seven people, including five militants, and injuries to 40 others on Saturday night, government and security officials said.
An almost synchronised rocket barrage shook the airport and its vicinity.
“It seems the rocket attack was a cue for the militants to launch a physical attack,” a senior government official said.
Five rockets were fired at the airport. Two of them landed inside the premises, which also houses the army aviation and air force base used against militants in the adjoining tribal areas.
A spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan accepted responsibility, saying that the target was the air force base. He said 10 militants took part in the attack. “Our target was the air force base,” Ihsanullah Ihsan told reporters on phone from an undisclosed location.
He said all 10 were suicide bombers. Five of them had managed to get inside the base. The dead included two civilians. All the wounded were civilians.
A vehicle laden with explosives went off just outside the western wall of the sprawling airport, killing all the five militants inside it.
“We have just defused one suicide vest and are in the process of defusing another. One of them had four grenades tied to his body,” a security official said.
Explosions followed by intermittent gunfire caused panic in nearby residential areas.
Military and airport security forces cordoned off the area.
“It seemed a repeat of the attack on Mehran (Karachi) and Kamra air bases,” an official said.
Flights to and from the Peshawar airport were suspended after the raid. Passengers holed up inside the terminal were safe. There was no damage to aircraft at the tarmac, the official said.
All the wounded persons and bodies were taken to Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) and Lady Reading Hospital.
Medical Superintendent of the KTH, Zafar Afridi, told journalists that the injured included women and children. He said that of those brought to the hospital, four had already died.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, told media that militants had tried to enter the building but failed to do so. Three rockets had been fired at the airfield and one shell landed near the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education’s office at University Road.
The minister said that police had recently captured a would-be suicide bomber who revealed that his handlers had once brought him to the place for familiarisation with the area.
Bashir Ahmed Bilour, Senior Minister in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cabinet, said terrorists had attacked the airport. He said the rocket barrage terrified the residents living near the airport, panicking them into indiscriminate gunfire. He said one vehicle along a wall of the airport was seen engulfed in flames.
Two people were seen running away from the spot.
The police launched a door-to-door search in adjoining areas for suspects, the official added.
Three suicide jackets were removed from the dead terrorists. Three explosive bags were also recovered. The fourth bomber exploded his jacket.
A Suzuki van exploded at a place not far from the dead bombers’ bodies. Eleven 11 hand-grenades were found there.
Agencies add: A PAF spokesman said that outer wall of the airfield had been damaged at a few places in the rocket attack.
In a statement issued in Islamabad, he said no terrorist had been able to penetrate inside the premises. Security forces were fully alert and in control of the situation.
He said there was no damage to PAF assets and personnel in the base.
Television footage showed a vehicle with a smashed windscreen, another damaged car, bushes on fire and what appeared to be a large breach in a wall.
Pervez George, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, confirmed that the airport had been closed, but said there had been no damage to the airport building or terminals.
“All Pakistani airports at this time are on red alert,” he told PTV.
“All flights to Peshawar have been diverted to Islamabad and Lahore,” he added.