Deadly Attack at Pakistan Airport Leaves 18 Dead

In separate incident, suicide bombers in southwestern Pakistan kill 23 Shia pilgrims

Karachi airport

Gunmen stormed an airport terminal used for VIPs and cargo in Pakistan’s largest city Sunday night, killing 11 people, officials said, striking a blow to a city vital to the country’s economy.

A total of 18 people have died in the assault, including nine airport security personnel, seven attackers and two airport employees, according to Simi Jamali at Jinnah Hospital, where the bodies were brought. He said 18 people suffered injuries in the fighting, but the severity of those wounds so far remains unclear.

Meanwhile, suicide bombers in southwestern Pakistan killed 23 Shia pilgrims returning from Iran in a separate incident underscoring how the fragility of Pakistan’s security.

The attack still was ongoing early Monday in Karachi, a sprawling port city on the southern coast of Pakistan. Gunfire could be heard coming from the terminal at Jinnah International Airport as authorities scrambled to secure the area.

The attackers used forged army identification documents to gain entry to the airport, according to Dawn, a Pakistani news agency. They were dressed as police guards, according to The Associated Press.

Gunmen attacked the terminal late Sunday, said Shaukat Jamal, a spokesman for the Airport Security Force. Pakistani television stations aired footage of what appeared to be a major fire at the airport, with the silhouette of a jet visible.

Jamal said the Pakistani military has been called in and that police were fighting the attackers.

The attack happened at a terminal used for special VIP flights and cargo rather than commercial flights.

Sarmad Hussain, an official with the state-run Pakistan International Airlines, was working at the airport when the attacks occurred.

“I was working at my office when I heard big blasts — several blasts — and then there were heavy gunshots,” he said to The Associated Press after escaping the building.

He said he and a colleague jumped out one of the windows to get away, and his colleague broke his leg.

When Hussain came out of the building, he saw smoke billowing from the terminal.

Jamal, the ASF official, said army commandos have confined the attackers to a maintenance area, and that they hadn’t been able to get onto the tarmac.

He said the police and army commandos were still fighting with the attackers. He said he was not sure how many attackers there were and whether any of them had been killed.

A spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines, Mashhood Tajwar, said all flight operations had been suspended.

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city and has been the site of frequent attacks in the past. It is the country’s economic heart and any activity targeting the airport likely would strike a blow at foreign investment in the country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday night’s attack. Pakistan’s government has been trying to negotiate a peace deal with armed groups mostly based in the northwest who have been waging war against the government.

But the talks have had little success, raising fears that the groups will increase attacks across the country.

Security officials in Karachi had feared that if the talks broke down, Karachi would be a likely spot for armed groups to strike back as the Pakistani Taliban and their allies increasingly have gained a foothold in the city in recent years.

Pilgrims attacked

In the suicide bombing, four bombers targeted Shia pilgrims staying at a hotel in the town of Tuftan near the Iranian border, said Baluchistan Home Minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti.

One bomber was killed by security officials traveling with the pilgrims, but the other three managed to get inside the hotel where they blew themselves up in an attack that also wounded 10 people, he said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether there was a connection between the airport assault and the Baluchistan attack.

Source: Al Jazeera and wire services