The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility on Monday for the terrorist attack on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, in which 28 people, including 12 militants, were killed. Twenty-six others were injured in the audacious midnight attack. Following this, airports in India have been put on high alert with security audits ordered to fill any critical gap in security.
TTP said the assault was to avenge the death of their leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike last November. The terrorists held parts of the airport, including the runway, under their control for a few hours before they were neutralised by the Pakistan Army. Four international flights were operating from the airport, Pakistan’s largest, at the time of the attack.
Though the army announced the assault had ended early on Monday morning – five hours after the siege began – firing and blasts were heard from inside the airport complex soon after. The gun battle finally ended at 11am on Monday, almost 12 hours after the militants entered the airport, some wearing uniforms of the Airport Security Force (ASF).
The airport was declared open by mid-day Monday and flights resumed soon after.
New Delhi strongly condemned the attack. “There can be no justification for any act of terrorism. This scourge must be fought urgently and comprehensively, without making any exception,” said an MEA statement.
Airports in India have been put on high alert. Union home minister Rajnath Singh on Monday reviewed the state of airport security with top officials.
The team included National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Intelligence Bureau director Asif Ibrahim. “We will seek information from all sources about the attack and it will be studied in detail to see what lessons are there for us,” said a senior security official.
The Karachi attackers — possibly of Uzbek origin and “extremely young” — entered the airport premises on Sunday evening from two points near the old terminal building. Using a vehicle with a government number plate, the men made their way towards planes parked in the hangar nearby. “They wanted to cause as much destruction as possible and used grenades once inside the cargo area,” said provincial minister Sharjeel Memon.
There was chaos as the attackers tried to access the newer part of the airport. Hundreds of passengers were stranded in their planes as the control tower did not allow planes to move or passengers to disembark. While some ground staff members managed to flee, others were stuck in the midst of the gun battle. “They were firing at will all over,” recalled a staff member.
Security forces have come under heavy criticism with allegations that it took the army nearly two hours to respond to the attack even though the airport is next to an army base. Passengers said paramilitary troops ran helter-skelter initially. “Many of them tried to take shelter behind walls and under machinery,” said an eyewitness. The attack has dealt a body blow to the peace talks between the Pakistan government and the Taliban. “Under the present circumstances it is difficult for us to talk to the TTP,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, one of the negotiators in the talks from the government’s side.