Taliban gunmen killed 29 people, including 16 praying in a mosque, when they stormed a Pakistani air force base on Friday, a military spokesman said, in the deadliest Taliban attack on a military installation in the country’s history.
The 13 gunmen were also killed in the attack on Badaber air base, close to the northwestern city of Peshawar. The terrorists, who were disguised as paramilitary personnel, sneaked into the base in Badaber, a suburb of Peshawar, from two points early in the morning.
While one group of attackers was contained in a small area near the base’s guard room, another group entered a mosque and killed 16 people who were praying, chief military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said on Twitter.
A captain leading the operation against the attackers and three air force personnel were also killed, officials said.
Personnel from a quick response force and army commandoes engaged the terrorists and gunned down 13 of them.
Authorities said 22 injured people were taken to nearby hospitals. Bajwa said 10 soldiers, including two officers, were among the wounded.
Pakistani media reports said most of the people killed inside the mosque were security personnel.
Bajwa posted several photos of the dead attackers, who were clad in black and armed with assault rifles. He said the attackers were in “constabulary uniform”. Reports said the attackers were also wearing explosives-laden jackets.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Muhammad Khurasani claimed responsibility for the attack in an email sent to journalists. "Our suicide unit carried out the attack," he said in the email.
“We proudly claim responsibility for the attack on the Pakistani air base,” Khurasani told Reuters. “This base is being used by fighter jets for bombing us.”
Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif travelled to Peshawar to assess the situation.
Militant groups, including the Taliban, have repeatedly targeted military facilities in the restive city of Peshawar and its surrounding areas over the past few years, killing dozens of security personnel. Attacks have also been carried out within the high-security Peshawar cantonment.
However, the number of attacks in Pakistan has fallen around 70% this year after the military launched an offensive against Taliban bases along the Afghan border and the government stepped up measures to fight militancy.
Friday’s attack was a major blow for Pakistan's military, which had stepped up operations against militants following a horrific Taliban attack last December at a Peshawar school that killed 150 people, mostly children.
The base at Badaber was used by the US Air Force and the CIA for surveillance missions against the erstwhile Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. The US had a permanent presence at the base from 1959 to 1970.
CIA pilot Gary Powers had taken off for his ill-fated surveillance mission, during which he was shot down by a Soviet missile battery, from Badaber on May 1, 1960.