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Pakistan siege ends, 14 dead

world Updated: May 24, 2011 02:36 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

A 17-hour gun battle between Pakistan’s security forces and terrorists at the Mehran naval air base in Karachi ended on Monday afternoon with 14 people dead and more than 20 injured.

Among the dead were 10 military personnel and four terrorists, including a suicide bomber who blew himself up, according to interior minister Rehman Malik, who spoke to mediapersons in Karachi soon after the military regained control of the naval base.

He said all 11 Chinese nationals and six Americans at the air base at the time of the attack late on Sunday were safe contrary to some reports that one foreigner had been killed in the exchange of fire.

The Pakistan Taliban, who are allied with al Qaeda, told Reuters that they had staged the attack to avenge Osama bin Laden's death in a raid by US special forces in Abbottabad on May 2.

"It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden. It was proof that we are still united and powerful,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

It is believed that the attackers had done their homework and had inside information about the targets and completed their operation within 20 minutes, after which they engaged in a gun battle with the security forces.

Regarding the magnitude of the attack, Malik said the two Orion surveillance aircraft parked at the base were completely destroyed. He said the attackers used rocket launchers, grenades and light machine guns.

The interior minister confirmed that all the terrorists had been killed in the military operation following the attack.

He said the terrorists had entered the base by cutting through barbed wire at the rear portion of the complex.

Eyewitnesses said most of the casualties took place when the armed men made their way to the Orion aircraft. After completing their operation, the terrorists tried to escape but were prevented from doing so by navy guards who surrounded the area. Malik said the attackers were young men aged between 20 and 25 years.

"They looked like Star Wars characters," he said in all seriousness. By Monday noon, 12 hours after the attack, Pakistan's navy chief said an operation was underway to flush out the terrorists and that the "situation will end soon".

He also said the delay was caused because of the need to be careful as many lives were at stake. Snipers had been deployed at strategic locations.