Pakistani Taliban Taking Responsibility for Airport Attack
By Sophia Saifi, Holly Yan and Saleem Mehsud
Karachi, Pakistan (CNN) — The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for an hours-long attack at the country’s largest and busiest airport that killed at least 28 people.
Speaking from an undisclosed location, Pakistani Taliban commander Abdullah Bahar said the attack overnight at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport was retaliation for the death of former chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike in November in North Waziristan.
Bahar warned more attacks will follow.
“As long as we are breathing, our attacks will be continuing ’til the end of our lives.”
Hours of chaos
Late Sunday night, militants armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests stormed the cargo area of the airport.
The airport’s cargo area is about a kilometer (0.62 miles) away from the area where commercial planes take off.
The attack lasted five hours.
When it was over, 28 people were dead — including eight members of airport security forces, two Pakistan International Airlines employees and one ranger.
Another 24 people were injured, the military said.
All 10 militants involved in the attack were killed, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa said. Two of them detonated suicide vests, he said.
A building caught fire in the attack, but no planes were damaged, Bajwa said.
Some Pakistani media reported a renewed gun battle at the airport later Monday morning. But officials told CNN the noise was from fire-heated chemical containers exploding.
Still, as a precaution, security forces opened fire, said Ahmad Chinoy of the Citizen’s Police Liaison Committee. He said he was 100% sure there were no militants left in the airport.
The prime minister’s office said flights will resume Monday evening.
Prime minister: Terrorists had bigger plans
The assailants planned to destroy “all aeroplanes” parked near an old terminal at the airport, the prime minister’s office said after a briefing by authorities.
“Terrorists had a plan to bring down our aviation industry,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said in a statement.
Sharif’s office said commandos “laid down their lives” blocking a terminal.
“The valiant effort of (rangers and commandos) defeated the terrorists, and the national assets were saved,” the statement said.
Several days ago, Pakistan’s government had warned provincial officials of a possible “high-profile attack on a sensitive or key installation,” said Qaim Ali Shah, chief minister of Sindh province. But the warning, he said, did not mention the airport.
History of terror
The Pakistani Taliban, which is formally known as Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has long conducted an insurgency against the Pakistani government.
“Their primary target is the Pakistani state and its military,” said Raza Rumi of the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani think tank.
“It resents the fact that (Pakistan) has an alliance with the West, and it wants Sharia to be imposed in Pakistan.”
It claimed responsibility for a December 2009 suicide bombing at the United States’ Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan.
The attack killed seven U.S. citizens, including five CIA officers and a member of Jordanian intelligence.
The U.S. Justice Department charged Mehsud in 2010 for his alleged involvement in the attack.
Mehsud took over from Baitullah Mehsud, a fellow clan member, in 2009 after the latter was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Four years later, Mehsud suffered the same fate.
More claims and threats
Another TTP member claimed that the Pakistani government has been “abducting and killing innocent people.” The group and explained why the airport was targeted.
“We chose a location where there would be less civilian and more official casualties,” TTP representative Shahidullah Shahid said.
Shahid warned the group will engage “in a full-out war with the Pakistani state, starting on June 10.”
But “if even now the Pakistani government backs down,” Shahid said, “we are ready to engage in meaningful dialogue.”
Sophia Saifi reported from Karachi; Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta; and Saleem Mehsud reported from Islamabad. CNN’s Saima Mohsin, Sanjay Gupta and Ben Brumfield contributed to this report.