Taliban Claims Responsibility for Deadly Airport Attack in Pakistan

Smoke rises above the Jinnah International Airport where security forces battled militants in Karachi, Pakistan.  Smoke rises above the Jinnah International Airport where security forces battled militants in Karachi, Pakistan. Shakil Adil/AP

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for an hours-long overnight attack on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, which killed dozens of people and left several injured.

The New York Times put the death toll from the incident at 29, including the attackers. The BBC reported 28 dead, and Reuters 27. The Associated Press confirmed 18 dead, but noted that the tally does not include the bodies of the assailants, which weren't taken to the morgue. 

Pakistan's Major General Rizwan Akhtar told the Times that the assault began around midnight, when two groups of five apparently Uzbeki gunmen, some disguised as members of the Airport Security Force, infiltrated the airport. The assault was brutal, per the Times

The attack began late Sunday, when the gunmen made it past security checkpoints near the airport’s old terminal, which is mostly used for cargo or private flights for senior government officials and business leaders... Hurling grenades and unleashing automatic weapons fire, the attackers at least initially moved toward the nearby web of runways as they fought, according to news and witness reports.

The Associated Press also described the scene:  

Heavy gunfire and multiple explosions were heard coming from the terminal, used for VIP flights and cargo, as militants and security forces battled for control. A major fire rose from the airport, illuminating the night sky in an orange glow as the silhouettes of jets could be seen. As dawn broke Monday, smoke could still be seen billowing in the air... All the attackers wore explosives vests, some of which were detonated when they were shot at by the police, [an] official said.

Passengers were largely shielded from the violence, though the situation must have been terrifying for those stuck on board grounded planes. One man apparently tweeted from an airport runway:

According to Syed Qaim Ali Shah, the chief minister of Sindh Province, most of the casualties were sustained by airport personnel. He told the Times that 11 members of the Airport Security Force were killed, along with five local airline officials and three others. Shah said that the Taliban fighters were "well trained... their plan was very well thought out."  

Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the militant group, said the attack was carried out as an act of revenge for the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader who had been killed in a U.S. drone strike back in November. "We will continue carrying out such attacks," he said, adding that the attack was planned a long time ago but put on hold during peace talk negotiations with the Pakistani government. He stated that the assailants had intended to hijack a plane, saying: 

It is a message to the Pakistan government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages. The main goal of this attack was to damage the government, including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations.

He also said that Taliban was still interested in such talks, though it seems unlikely that the Pakistani government is. 

Meanwhile, it seems Pakistanis are frustrated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's failure to lead during the attack: 

This is one of the most ambitious Taliban attacks since 2011, when the group attacked a naval base in Karachi, leaving 10 dead. Pakistani officials said the airport will re-open today. 

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