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Militants storm Karachi airport

PART of the airport engulfed in flames after the attack on Sunday night.—White Star
PART of the airport engulfed in flames after the attack on Sunday night.—White Star

KARACHI: An audacious gun-and-explosive attack by heavily armed militants on the country’s busiest airport left nine people including seven Airport Security Force personnel dead and at least one aircraft parked in the cargo area destroyed, triggering a long-drawn gunfight in which three attackers were also killed, police and army officials said.

The attack — which left thousands stranded at the airport and hundreds of passengers were at least on four planes that were poised to take off on the runway a little before the airport was sealed off — was reminiscent of the one launched by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan on the Mehran airbase on May 22, 2011.

No-one claimed responsibility for the attack till late in the night.

• Seven ASF personnel, two others killed • All flights cancelled

According to a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, the attack started at about 11.20pm.

An unspecified number of heavily armed gunmen attacked the old terminal of the airport — where VIPs and VVIPs landed — wounding four personnel of the ASF, said the additional inspector general of police, Karachi, Ghulam Qadir Thebo.

“Nine people were brought dead, seven of them ASF personnel, and 14 injured, most of them belonging to the ASF,” said Dr Seemin Jamali, head of the emergency department of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. The eighth victim was a flight steward and the ninth one was another civilian.

The director-general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asim Bajwa, tweeted that three “terrorist bodies [were] lying” and their identification was under way. He added that passengers “in planes [have been] evacuated to safer places”.

Earlier, a Karachi-based ISPR spokesman said the attackers — he refused to be drawn on their number — had been holed up in the cargo area in an operation undertaken by army commandos.

He confirmed that the gunmen had managed to destroy at least one aircraft. He said the clean-up operation would be over by the morning, adding that another sweep of the airport would be undertaken after daylight.

“Thousands of people were present at the airport [when the terrorist attack began],” the CAA spokesman told Dawn. “They include staff of the CAA, ASF and airlines and passengers and those who came to see off or receive the passengers.” He refused to give the exact number of flights suspended and the approximate number of passengers stranded at the airport.

Domestic and international flights scheduled to arrive at Karachi airport were being diverted to the closest destination — Nawabshah — as the airport and the airspace was in complete lockdown, he added.

A spokesman for the Pakistan International Airlines told Dawn that two flights had been diverted to Nawabshah and they had landed safely there.

He confirmed that an Islamabad-bound PIA flight (PK-306) could not take off and was still on the runway with over 200 passengers and crew members on board. Three international flights were also said to be on the runway.

A passenger aboard an Emirates plane on the runway tweeted that the aircraft had been secured by army commandos.

A Dawn reporter standing on the road leading to the airport’s old terminal heard intermittent crackle of gunfire and a couple of explosions. A television channel showed what appeared to be the footage of a plane in flames parked in the cargo area.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2014