by Jamil Bhatti, Saadia Seher
ISLAMABAD, June 9 (Xinhua) -- At least 16 people including 10 security personnel were killed and 20 others injured in the terrorist attack at the Jinnah International Airport in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi late on Sunday night, officials said.
According to a statement by the spokesperson of Prime Minister House, the attack was launched at about 11:20 p.m. (local time) on Sunday night when at least 10 heavily armed militants sneaked into the terminal used for cargo and special VIP operations, lobbed hand grenades and opened fire at the security personnel.
The drop-scene of the attack happened early Monday morning when all 10 attackers were killed during a joint operation by Pakistan army, Rangers, Airport Security Force (ASF) and police.
Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, director general of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the mouthpiece of Pakistan army, said on Monday morning that all the 10 militants were killed one after another in the retaliatory attack by security forces.
Local media kept on insisting that the terrorists damaged or put on fire three planes parked at the airport during exchange of fire with the security personnel. However, Bajwa denied all such reports, saying "Area cleared. No damage to aircraft, fire visible in pictures was not of a plane but a building, now extinguished. All vital assets intact."
Health Minister of southern Sindh province Sagheer Ahmed said that a total of 16 bodies were brought to the hospital including nine personnel of Airport Security Force (ASF), three from Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and one each from Pakistan Rangers, police and Pakistan International Airline (PIA).
"At least 20 people, majority of them from the ASF personnel, were also injured in the attack," the health minister said.
According to the officials, the militants reached the airport in a vehicle before splitting into two groups. The assailants, wearing the attire of ASF, attacked the airport from two sides and managed to sneak into the main area of the terminal by lobbing hand grenades at the security personnel and opening fire at them.
To create panic, the militants also set an oil depot and a building on fire that was later extinguished by the fire fighters.
The attackers who were armed with suicide jackets, rockets, hand grenades, automatic guns, mortars and petrol bombs brought a big quantity of dry foods and water in their bags.
Some defense analysts believed that the preparations by the terrorists showed that they might have planned to hijack some planes but failed due to the quick reaction from the forces.
Soon after the attack, the country's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called security commanders and directed them to speed up the operation against terrorists and to ensure safety of all the passengers and staff stuck at the airport.
The ASF resisted the attackers till the contingents of Pakistan army under the supervision of Corps Commander Karachi reached the airport and took over the operation.
The reports said that around 500 security personnel including commandos from Pakistan army participated in the operation along with a special helicopter with snipers and sharp shooters on board.
Chief Minister of the southern Sindh province Qaim Ali Shah also reached the airport with other officials and monitored the developments and arrangements for the passengers at the airport.
In first phase of the operation, forces shot down three militants and cordoned off the others. Later, three of them killed themselves by exploding their explosives laden suicide jackets near the engineering terminal of the airport.
Fierce exchange of fire between militants and security personnel continued at three different locations at the airport premises and finally commandos from Pakistan army killed all terrorists.
Police and intelligence officials arrested at least three suspects from the airport and shifted them to some unidentified location for interrogation.
Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif appreciated the security personnel for their successful defense of national assets and professional operation against the militants.
The lights at the runway were put off, flight operation was suspended and all the scheduled departure flights from the airport were cancelled while all flights coming to the airport were diverted to the other nearby airports.
A red alert was issued for all the airports across the country and all the temporary entrance passes were cancelled to check any unwanted entrance into the airports.
DG ISPR Bajwa said that the troops had cleared the area in five hours after the attack and now they would hand over the airport to the CAA in the afternoon after the precautionary sweep in day light.
All the roads leading to the airport were blocked and emergency was declared in the main hospitals of the city.
No group or militant organization has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, but some local watchers believe that Pakistan Taliban would possibly be behind the incident as they had conducted such kind of attacks in the past.
In May 2011, at least 15 attackers of the Pakistan Taliban conducted a sophisticated attack on the Pakistan Navy's PNS Mehran base in Karachi and killed 18 security personnel besides damaging the assets of worth over 65 million U.S. dollars.
In December 2012, the Pakistan Taliban attacked another airport in the country's northwestern provincial capital of Peshawar and killed at least nine people and injured 40 others, but failed to reach their main target of Pakistan Air Force base near the airport.
The authorities have also deployed a team to identify the nationality of the attackers.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has formed an eight-member committee that will start an inquiry into the incident and will submit its report.