Pakistan has foiled a major attempt by armed terrorists on the country’s largest international airport in Karachi on June 8th. The attack was launched from two different directions by at least ten attackers. At least 30 people, including the ten terrorists, were killed in the attack. None of the many passenger airliners parked near the site of gun-battles received any major damage. The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan took the responsibility of the attack.
Pakistani security officials said two groups of terrorists participated in the attack. One group, officials said, entered the airport through Customs Gate and the second through Fokker Gate in the old terminal building of the sprawling airport complex. This terminal is primarily used for Haj operations.
The attackers were heavily armed with assault rifles, grenades, rocket launchers and patrol bombs. Pakistani media reported that the weapons seized from the terrorists were made in India. Director General of Pakistan Rangers Major General Rizwan Akhtar, whose forces backed by Pakistan Army, police and ASF, killed all the attackers, would not rule out such a possibility. He, however, said the matter would be investigated further.
It took security forces nearly five hours to neutralize the attackers, which started at 11.30pm. “Update: Area cleared. No damage to aircraft, fire visible in pics was not plane but a building, now extinguished. All vital assets intact,” tweeted Major General Asim Bajwa at 4:35 am. General Bajwa heads the Inter Services Press Relations, the information arm of Pakistan’s military.
Several Pakistani television channels reported that three of the attackers were from Afghanistan while two were from Uzebkistan. General Akhtar would not confirm their identity while talking to reporters hours after the operation. “We will check their DNAs to determine their identity. But their features suggest that they may be foreigners.”
The attack came hours after Afghanistan’s government pointed an accusing finger at Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency the ISI for an assassination attempt on Abdullah Abdullah, who is leading the country’s presidential elections.
“Initial investigations indicate foreign intelligence services were involved in this incident through Lashkar-e-Taiba in an organized manner, and the terrorists were aiming to disrupt the election in Afghanistan,” Afghanistan’s National Security Council, which is chaired by President Hamid Karzai, said in a statement and quoted by the AFP. Pakistan has angrily denied such charges in the past.
Relations between the two countries, which share a long border, have been at their ebb in recent weeks. Islamabad accuses Kabul of backing Mullah Fazlullah-lead TTP, the al-Qa’ida-affiliated disbanded terrorist network. Pakistan also protested with Afghanistan over recent cross-border militant attacks in Bajaur tribal region in which at least seven of its troops were killed on June 5. Tensions between the two neighbors have stirred new fears about stability in the region, especially after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Pakistani security forces have been on the offensive in recent weeks against the TTP in the country’s restive North Waziristan region, killing dozens of militants. The peace talks initiative launched by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has fizzled out. The TTP has ended its ceasefire and the country is back to the bloody bombings cycle.
The TTP took responsibility of the attack. The terrorist network, blamed for the death of 55,000 Pakistanis in a decade-long bloody campaign, carried out a similar attack in May 2011 on PNS Mehran, the headquarter of Pakistan Navy’s air arm, located a few miles away from the Karachi airport. It was an embarrassing security breach for the nuclear armed nation. An investigation later revealed involvement of navy’s own men in the attack conspiracy. The court martial of three naval officers was also recommended a year later in 2012.
The June 8 attack also had all the indications of an inside job. The terrorists entered the base from points where security was surprisingly lax despite prior intelligence warnings of such an attack. It looked like the ASF had maintained a single layer of security cordon around such a sensitive facility. Initial media reports suggested that the attackers had virtually resistance-free entry into the airport premises after the initial engagement with the ASF personnel. Pakistani officials’ press talk suggested that the attackers had almost precise knowledge of their targets.
Pakistani government maintained an unexplained mum during the hours long bloody drama. The country’s information, defense and interior ministers did not issue a single statement to brief the news hungry media. General Bajwa, the ISPR chief, was the only official who gave regular updates on Twitter. The government is expected to announce a formal inquiry but not many Pakistanis attach much hope to such investigations which have rarely been transparent and conclusive in the past.
The June 8 attackers, even though failed to cause any major damage in the country’s busiest airport, but they did succeeded in embarrassing the country’s security establishment. Even though intelligence agencies did anticipate such an attack days before the incident but they failed to stop it. “The image of terrorists armed with RPGs running across the tarmac of Karachi airport … taking positions near the runway .. damage is done,” tweeted Kamran Bukhari, a noted Middle Eastern and South Asia scholar at Stratfor. “This cycle of attacks followed by responses from security agencies won’t end unless #Pak state wins the intelligence war,” he added in another tweet.