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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Pakistan fears for nuclear bases after 28 killed in Taliban attack on airport

Rob Crilly

Published 10/06/2014 | 02:30

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Smoke billows from Jinnah International Airport in Karachi after the Taliban attack. AP
Smoke billows from Jinnah International Airport in Karachi after the Taliban attack. AP
A policeman arranges weapons seized after an attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. Reuters
A policeman arranges weapons seized after an attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. Reuters
Fire illuminates the sky above the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi where security forces fought with Taliban militants on Sunday night in Pakistan. AP
Fire illuminates the sky above the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi where security forces fought with Taliban militants on Sunday night in Pakistan. AP

Pakistan stepped up security around nuclear facilities, military bases and government offices yesterday as more details emerged of how 10 militants brought chaos to the country's busiest airport.

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The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for an ambitious commando assault that killed 18 security guards and civilian staff before declaring that its fighters would launch a string of attacks in revenge for government hostilities.

The six-hour gun battle at Karachi airport will deal a blow to faltering peace talks and intensify pressure on a government that has so far refused to open an all-out offensive against militant havens.

Mohyuddin Wani, the press secretary for Nawaz Sharif, Pakistani prime minister, said the attack was designed to close the country's aviation industry.

"Their intention was an all-out spectacular attack, eliminating 20 aircraft and killing more than 200 passengers," he said.

"The airport security force, to our good luck, prevented this, driving the attackers into a cargo area where they could not do so much damage."

He said it was too early to draw conclusions about the prospects for peace talks.

The ease with which gunmen were able to enter Jinnah International Airport will be a concern to the government and to military.

A senior aviation official said that two groups of fighters entered from different locations just before midnight on Sunday, close to an old terminal used for cargo and VIP passengers.

He said they comprised Uzbek and Chechen nationals, wearing light blue uniforms similar to the police.

They all wore matching trainers – frequently a detail of Taliban attacks – and came equipped for a siege. Backpacks recovered from the scene were stuffed with food, as well as bottles of water.

Airport security forces fought them away from two airliners that were boarding passengers and into a cargo hanger, which caught fire during an intense exchange of gunfire.

Three died after detonating suicide belts.

Pakistan initially announced the all-clear around dawn, but shooting could be heard later in the morning as clean-up operations continued.

Commanders with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued a string of statements claiming responsibility.

Abdullah Bahar Mehsud, a senior commander, said the attack was carried out to avenge the death of the group's former leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike last year.

The TTP – an umbrella grouping of militants loosely associated with Mullah Omar's Afghan Taliban – has waged a seven-year insurgency against Islamabad in which tens of thousands have died.

Last year Mr Sharif was elected prime minister in part on a ticket to find peace.

In March, government officials entered face-to-face talks with senior TTP commanders. However, optimism faded fast and talks have stalled since.

Pakistan's military has launched a number of operations against militant-controlled areas in the north-western tribal belt in response to what it said were terrorist attacks. (©Daily Telegraph, London))

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