The Pakistani Taliban threatened to carry out more deadly attacks on high profile international targets Monday after a brutal five-hour siege of Pakistan’s busiest airport that left at least 28 people dead.
Militants, some of whom were dressed in official uniforms, used rocket launchers, suicide vests and automatic weapons in a devastating assault on Karachi’s airport. Bright orange flames tore through airport buildings as explosions and gunfire rocked the airport compound.
A Pakistani Taliban commander told the Daily Beast that the jihad would intensify if Pakistan’s government and military continued to target extremists based in tribal areas. “If they are bombing us and innocent Pashtun people on behalf of the U.S., we cannot present flowers to the government of Pakistan,” said Jihad Yar Mehsud. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commanders said the assaults would continue until the military enforced a total ceasefire.
The assault on Jinnah International Airport began shortly before midnight when at least 10 attackers approached a terminal that handles VIP and cargo flights. Local accounts vary, but it is reported that at least some of the militants were disguised Airport Security Force uniforms.
The attackers opened fire with machine guns and rocket launchers at the start of a siege that lasted until just before dawn. Each of the Taliban militants, all of whom were killed, is thought to have been wearing an explosive vest, some of which were detonated during the firefight with police, paramilitary squads and elite commandos.
Fires raged close to planes parked on the runway and one cargo building was completely gutted by flames and explosions. Smoke still billowed from the airport Monday morning as emergency workers took the bodies of 18 victims to a local hospital where 26 more people were being treated for their injuries. Around 50 airport officials, who were trapped by the fighting escaped unharmed.
Taliban commanders said the deadly assault had been planned in response to attacks on militant strongholds, especially the drone strike which killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the notorious and charismatic leader of the Pakistani Taliban, last November.
A Western diplomat told the Daily Beast that the Pakistani security forces were incapable of securing vulnerable targets being threatened by militants. “The Pakistan interior ministry knew the Taliban would be attacking the airport but they could not stop it,” said an official who wished to remain anonymous.
The diplomat said international governments were alarmed to discover that even vital infrastructure like major airports could not be protected. “Forget about protecting the whole of Pakistan from the Taliban, specific areas such Karachi airport should be secured. We are worried about more attacks,” he said.
Karachi is the country’s largest city and its most economically thriving hub but terror attacks, apparently designed to ward off international business, are likely to hurt the prospect of further growth. The Taliban is thought to have been badly disrupted and weakened by international efforts to clamp down on extremists in the country, but the latest high profile attack shows the group still has the wherewithal to outsmart the Pakistani military. “Pakistani security forces do not have the capability of avoiding such a big attack,” said Zia U Rahman, a Pakistani analyst. “Pakistan fighting has been fighting a war on terror for long time but it does not have talent to tackle such attack or protected it from Taliban.”