KARACHI: Twenty-eight people were killed as Pakistan’s military fought an all-night battle on Monday with Taliban gunmen who besieged Karachi airport armed with rocket launchers and suicide vests, leaving a nascent peace process in tatters.
Ten militants were among the dead, officials said, as Pakistan’s biggest city witnessed a return of the kind of spectacular offensive waged before by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) during an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.
The attack at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport began just before midnight on Sunday and around dawn, the military said that all 10 attackers had been killed.
Some of the gunmen were dressed in army uniform, as authorities put their mangled bodies, assault rifles, grenades and rocket launchers on display for the press. At least three blew up their suicide vests, witnesses said, and one head on display was decapitated.
But after authorities initially declared the airport cleared around dawn, an Agence France-Presse reporter witnessed fresh gunfire break out inside the airport—where explosions and fires had erupted during the night—prompting security forces to relaunch the operation.
“The attack is over and we have cleared the area of all militants,” a spokesman for the paramilitary Rangers, Sibtain Rizvi, told reporters later after nearly 12 hours of fighting in all.
The bodies of the 18 victims of the Taliban assault—including eight airport security guards and four workers from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA)— were taken to a Karachi hospital where another 26 wounded people were being treated, a hospital official said.
PIA spokesman Mashoor Tajwar said no airline passengers were caught up in the incident.
The TTP said the brazen attack was in revenge for its late leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in November.
TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid also dismissed the Pakistani government’s recent offer of a new round of peace talks as a ruse, and promised more attacks to come.
“It’s just the beginning, we have taken revenge for one [Mehsud], we have to take revenge for hundreds,” he said.
Talks to end the TTP’s bloody seven-year insurgency in Pakistan have been underway since February, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to power last year, but little clear progress has resulted.