Karachi/Miranshah: Pakistani security forces Monday said they had cleared the Karachi airport of militants nearly 12 hours after the start of a siege that left at least 24 people dead, a paramilitary official said.
“The attack is over and we have cleared the area of all militants, and we will hand over the airport to the Civil Aviation Authority at 12.00 pm (0700 GMT),” paramilitary Rangers spokesman Sibtain Rizvi told reporters.
An AFP reporter at the scene said gunshots could be heard inside the airport and that rangers and elite commandos were rushing inside.
The initial assault at the Jinnah International Airport began late Sunday and raged until dawn, when the military said that all 10 militants had been killed.
The Pakistani Taliban on Monday claimed responsibility for an attack on Karachi airport in revenge for their late leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in November.
“We carried out the attack on Karachi airport to avenge the death of Hakimullah Mehsud,” Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP, while dismissing the Pakistani government’s recent offer of peace talks as a “tool of war”.
He also promised more attacks in the future.
“Pakistan used peace talks as a tool of war, it killed hundreds of innocent tribal women and children. This is our first attack to avenge the death of Hakimullah Mehsud,” he said.
“We have yet to take revenge for the deaths of hundreds of innocent tribal women and children in Pakistani air strikes.
“It’s just the beginning, we have taken revenge for one, we have to take revenge for hundreds,” he told AFP.
The initial assault at Jinnah International Airport in Pakistan’s southern port city began late Sunday and raged until dawn, when the military said that at least 24 people — including all 10 attackers — had been killed.
Umar Media, the official media wing of the TTP, claimed on their Facebook page that just six militants had attacked the airport.
“The biggest reason for attacking Karachi airport is because it serves as the biggest air logistics centre supplying goods for the Crusaders’ war in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” a statement on their Facebook page claimed.
Equipped with suicide vests, grenades and rocket launchers, they had battled security forces in one of the most brazen attacks in years in Pakistan’s biggest city. Among the 14 victims were security personnel and four airport workers.
Gunmen attacked one of Pakistan’s biggest airports on Sunday and at least 24 people were killed, including all 10 of the attackers, media reported.
The attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s sprawling commercial hub of 18 million people, took place as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government tries to engage Pakistani Taliban militants in negotiations to end years of fighting.
Gun battles went on for several hours and television pictures showed fire raging at the airport as ambulances ferried casualties away, but by dawn on Monday, the army said the airport had been secured.
“(The attackers) were confined to two areas and eliminated,” the Dawn newspaper cited military spokesman Major-General Asim Bajwa as saying.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Pakistani Taliban militants, allied with but separate from the Afghan Taliban, are battling to overthrow the Pakistani state and impose their hardline vision of Islamist rule.
Earlier, officials said all flights had been diverted.
Peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban have failed in recent months, dampening hopes of reaching a negotiated settlement with the insurgency, which continues attacks against government and security targets.
The attack came days after a peace process between the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan broke down and a ceasefire announced by the TTP was called off.
Since then there has also been a major break in the TTP with the powerful Mehsud group announcing their separation from the militant outfit led by Maulana Fazlullah.
The Mehsud group commanders had warned of resuming attacks against the government and security personnel and installations.