As peace returned to the Mehran Naval Air Base on Sharae Faisal, Karachi's main boulevard, Pakistan Navy officials were at a loss to explain why a dozen men could penetrate into the inner-most portion of the security facility and take out one of the force's most prized possessions without little or no resistance.
"Yes we are investigating as to what has gone wrong and why," navy chief Admiral Noman Bashir told newsmen in Karachi.
But interior minister Rehman Malik ruled out a security lapse and said that the attack was planned and executed by professionals. "This was not an amateur job. It was done in coordination with outside forces. We cannot say that the security was compromised. They forced their way in," he said in defence to allegations that the navy allowed another lapse. This is the fourth attack on naval facilities in under a month.
For its part, the navy is counting the heavy death toll which had reached to 11 of its men by Monday evening. Over 20 people were injured in the attack, say insiders. The standoff between Pakistan’s security forces and armed intruders at the Mehran Air Base in Karachi ended on Monday afternoon. Amongst the dead were three attackers which included one suicide bomber who blew himself up, according to details released by interior minister Rehman Malik who spoke the media at the CM House in Karachi soon after the conclusion of the military operation. Malik said he opted to hold a briefing at the CM house because there were fears that if it were held outside the base, another suicide attack could take place.
Rehman Malik said that there were eleven Chinese nationals and six Americans on the Naval Air Base at the time of the attack and all of them were safe, contradicting earlier reports that one foreigner had also been killed in the fighting that started Sunday night.
Malik said that the two Orion aircraft that were parked in the base were completely destroyed. He said that the attackers used rocket launchers, grenades and light machine guns in the attack which started at midnight on Sunday and continued for more than 17 hours.
The interior minister confirmed that all terrorists had been killed in the military operation following the attack. He told journalists that the attackers had entered the base by cutting through barbed wire at the rear portion of the complex. Eye witnesses said that most of the casualties occurred when the armed men made their way to the Orion aircraft. One officer was also gunned down in the initial attack.
After completing their operation, the terrorists tried to escape but were prevented from doing so by navy guards who surrounded the area. Rehman Malik identified the attackers as young men between 20 and 25 years of age. “They looked like Star Wars characters,” he said in all seriousness, when asked to describe how they looked.
The Pakistan interior minister told the media that evidence suggested that the attack had been planned in Waziristan.
Earlier, a navy spokesman, Irfan ul Haq, told the media that around twelve terrorists had forced their way into the naval base.
Both Rehman Malik and Naval officials did not confirm whether a hostage situation had emerged following the attacks and the retreat of the terrorists.
By Monday noon, twelve hours after the attack, Pakistan Navy Chief told the media that an operation was underway to flush out the terrorists and the"situation will end soon." He also said that the delay was caused because of the need to be careful since many lives were at stake. Snipers had been deployed on all positions.
It is believed that the attackers had done their homework and were working on inside information as they were aware of where the target was and managed to complete their operation within twenty minutes or so. By Monday evening, the navy had declared that the base had been secured.