Taliban gunmen attacked a security post outside Pakistan’s Karachi airport on Tuesday, a day after an all-night siege by the militants left 37 dead and extinguished a tentative peace process.
The latest assault on the airport raised further questions about the authorities’ ability to secure key facilities in the face of a resurgent enemy, and came as air force jets pounded suspected militant hideouts in the northwest, killing 25 people.
The attack on the security post targeted an entry point to an Airport Security Force (ASF) camp 500 metres (yards) from the airport’s main premises, and around a kilometre from the passenger terminal.
Police, paramilitary rangers and army all raced to the site but officials later reported they had not traded fire with the militants and there had been no casualties.
“Two people came towards the ASF (Airport Security Force) checkpost and started firing,” Colonel Tahir Ali, a spokesman for the force, told reporters. “Nobody has been killed or injured,” he added.
Army spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa confirmed the incident was over, but tweeted that three to four assailants were involved, while a senior official at the scene who wished to remain anonymous said the gunmen may have fled to a nearby shanty settlement.
“We are chasing them, we will get them, it’s not easy to hide here, there are no buildings, no population except for two small shanty towns nearby,” the official told AFP.
The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to air strikes in the tribal areas, and vowed further unrest.
“Today’s attack on ASF (Airport Security Force) in Karachi is in response to the bombardment on innocent people in Tirah Valley and other tribal areas,” spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said. “We will continue such attacks.”
Flights resumed later on Tuesday after temporarily being suspended for the second time in as many days, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.
– Bodies retrieved –
Meanwhile tragic details came to light about the grisly deaths of seven workers who hid inside the airport’s cold-storage facility to escape Monday’s siege — but were later engulfed by flames.
Shahid Khan said his 32-year-old nephew Inayat’s last words were to his wife, whom he called at 11:25pm (1825 GMT) on Sunday night as the raid by 10 militants armed with guns, grenades and rocket launchers began.
His nephew said “‘The attack is on our office, they are showering the office with rockets and bullets’,” according to Khan.
“That was the last contact and then the line got cut — but we did not know it would be forever,” he told AFP while sobbing. The workers’ burnt remains were retrieved on Tuesday.
Earlier in the morning, Pakistani jets launched air strikes on a tribal district overrun by militants in apparent retaliation for Monday’s siege.
The military said nine “terrorist hideouts” were destroyed in the raids, the latest in a succession of attacks carried out by the Pakistani military in the tribal belt this year after talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) broke down.
The last was in North Waziristan in late May, killing at least 75 people and triggering an exodus of some 58,000 people — half of them in the past few days — in fear of a ground offensive that has been anticipated for years.
The military’s death toll from Tuesday’s strikes, in the restive Tirah Valley area of Khyber tribal district, could not be independently verified. The district was also targeted in April, with aerial bombing that killed dozens.
– Resurgent Taliban –
Pakistan entered into talks with the Taliban in February and agreed upon a ceasefire in March, which broke down a month later.
Hasan Askari, an analyst, said the period of talks had allowed the Taliban to gather their strength while the government dithered.
“The Taliban are very clear so far as their targets are concerned — they want to humble the Pakistani state and they are striving for it,” he said.
“They re-grouped themselves during the last couple of months as the talks process continued and they can do these things for the next couple of weeks and then they will need time to regroup again,” he added.