Pakistani Taliban claim responsibility for Karachi airport attack

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LONDON — Only weeks ago, the Paki­stani Tal­i­ban ap­peared to be on the ropes. Vi­olent ri­val­ries split the in­sur­gency in two. Peace talks with the gov­ern­ment col­lapsed. Mil­i­tary jets pounded mil­i­tant hide-outs in the tribal belt.

And so, with a point to prove, the Tal­i­ban hit back.

On Sun­day night, 10 mil­i­tant fight­ers, dis­guised as gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity forces and armed with rocket launch­ers and sui­cide vests, stormed the Karachi air­port. They came with food, wa­ter and am­mu­ni­tion, in ap­par­ent prep­a­ra­tion for a long siege, but also with big am­bi­tions: per­haps to hi­jack a com­mer­cial air­liner, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials said Mon­day, or to blow up an oil de­pot, or to de­stroy air­planes on the tar­mac.

Para­mil­i­tary guards pinned the fight­ers down in a cargo ter­mi­nal, in a fire­fight that blazed through the night. After five hours, as stranded pas­sen­gers waited anx­iously in parked air­planes, it was over, with 29 peo­ple dead and the cargo build­ing on fire.

Yet the au­da­cious as­sault shook the coun­try to its core. It showed how, de­spite the Tal­i­ban’s chal­lenges and deep­en­ing di­vi­sions, their reach has ex­tended far from their tribal re­doubt into Paki­stan’s big­gest city. With sev­eral ji­ha­dists from Uz­beki­stan among the dead, the at­tack also demon­strated how the Tal­i­ban can still draw on an in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tant net­work to con­duct so­phis­ti­cated op­er­a­tions against high-pro­file tar­gets across the coun­try.

And it may be a sign of more vi­o­lence to come.

“This marks an es­ca­la­tion of the war,” said Adil Na­jam, dean of at Boston Univer­sity’s Par­dee School of Global Studies. “And it shows that this is go­ing to be a long war.”

The main Paki­stani Tal­i­ban fac­tion’s spokes­man, Shahid­ul­lah Shahid, said as much, call­ing the strike in Karachi “a re­sponse to the re­cent at­tacks by the gov­ern­ment.” And even as he said the group was still in­ter­ested in talk­ing peace with the gov­ern­ment, he prom­ised that, in the mean­time, “we will con­tinue car­ry­ing out such at­tacks.”

Ex­plo­sions and gun­fire rang out across the air­port in the early-morn­ing hours Mon­day, as po­lice and se­cu­rity forces bat­tled with the at­tack­ers. Just be­fore 5 a.m., af­ter five hours of siege, the mil­i­tary re­ported that the last of the 10 at­tack­ers had been killed.

The chief min­is­ter of Sindh prov­ince, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, told re­port­ers that in ad­di­tion to the 10 at­tack­ers, 19 other peo­ple had died, in­clud­ing 11 mem­bers of the Air­port Se­cu­rity Force, five lo­cal air­line of­fi­cials and three oth­ers. “They were well-trained,” he said of the as­sail­ants. “Their plan was very well-thought-out.”

Maj. Gen. Rizwan Akh­tar, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of a para­mil­i­tary force that is de­ployed in Karachi, told re­port­ers that the at­tack­ers ap­peared to be of Uz­bek or­i­gin. Gen. Akh­tar said the at­tack­ers came in two groups of five each. Three at­tack­ers det­o­nated their ex­plo­sive vests, while seven were killed by se­cu­rity forces, he said.

The as­sault was the most am­bi­tious of its kind in Paki­stan since Isla­mist mil­i­tants at­tacked a navy air base in cen­tral Karachi in 2011. Although com­man­dos moved quickly to counter the air­port as­sault, many Paki­stanis ex­pressed shock that mil­i­tants could pen­e­trate such a prom­i­nent tar­get so thor­oughly and raised ques­tions about why the at­tack had not been pre­vented by the mil­i­tary’s pow­er­ful spy ser­vice, the Direc­tor­ate of Inter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence.

Asia - South Asia - Pakistan - Karachi - Taliban


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