Smoke billows from Jinnah International Airport in Karachi
during the attack. REUTERS/Athar Hussain
Taliban militants disguised as security forces stormed
into Pakistan's busiest airport, triggering an all-night battle
in which at least 27 people were killed.
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 deals a heavy blow to Sharif's efforts to attract foreign
investors to revive economic growth, and raises questions
about security at Pakistan's main installations.
Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman, said: "The main goal
of this attack was to damage the government, including by
hijacking planes and destroying state installations."
Just before midnight, 10 gunmen in military uniforms armed
with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades arrived
at the cargo terminal in two minivans, then shot their way
The militants split into two groups, with one attacking a
gate called Fokker to create a diversion, and the other
trying to take over 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. He said the militants had fired rockets at passenger
planes but missed. "It seems there was some ill-planning on
Passengers were evacuated and all flights were diverted.
Officials said no aircraft had been damaged.
Gun battles went on for five hours until security forces
regained control of the airport at dawn, and television
pictures showed fire raging as ambulances ferried casualties
Another security source said the militants were highly
trained and had carried large backpacks filled with dried
fruit and water, suggesting they were in for a long siege.
At least three loud explosions were heard, apparently from
militants wearing suicide belts blowing themselves up.
A spokesman for the paramilitary Rangers said a large cache
of arms and ammunition had been recovered from the militants,
and the government said security was being stepped up at all
"We need to keep extremely vigilant," said Shujaat Azeem,
special assistant to Sharif on aviation.
The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of insurgent groups
fighting to topple the government and set up a sharia state,
said they had carried out the attack in response to air
strikes on their strongholds near the Afghan border.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nissar Ali Khan told reporters in
Karachi late on Monday that the militants' apparent aim was
to "damage the airport and planes as well as carry out a
hostage taking". "They had come prepared for the long haul,"
Almost 24 hours after the initial attack, black smoke was
still billowing above the airport and security was tight,
according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.
"At the time of the attack, two planes with passengers were
parked near the runway. Fortunately, all the passengers were
safely taken to the lounge," Chaudhry said. "Pakistan is a
conflict zone, so the threat is everywhere."
The Rangers said that the attackers were ethnic Uzbeks.
Pakistani officials often accuse foreign militants holed up
in lawless areas on the Afghan border of staging attacks
alongside the Pakistani Taliban.
"Three militants blew themselves up and seven were killed by
security forces," Rizwan Akhtar, regional head of the
Rangers, said in televised remarks. "The militants appear to
The death toll included airport security guards and workers
with Pakistan International Airlines.
In separate, unrelated violence, 24 Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims
were killed in a suicide attack near Pakistan's border with
Iran, an official said. A radical Sunni Islamist group
A suspected Taliban suicide bomber also rammed a truck into a
military checkpoint on the border with Afghanistan, killing
four soldiers, military officials said.
Sharif came to power last year promising to find a negotiated
solution to years of violence but, after the attack on the
airport, the peace process looked in trouble.
Karachi is Pakistan's biggest city and home to a vibrant
stock exchange, the central bank and the country's main port.
But it is also a violent and chaotic place, where Taliban
militants and criminal gangs operate freely underground.
Peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban
had been failing in recent months, already dampening hopes of
a negotiated settlement.