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Pakistani forces repel attack near Karachi airport

Jun. 10, 2014 - 10:16AM   |  

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Pakistani security personnel inspect the site around a training center Tuesday after gunmen attacked the facility in Karachi, Pakistan. (Fareed Khan / AP)

KARACHI, PAKISTAN — Gunmen in Pakistan attacked a training facility for airport police near the Karachi airport Tuesday, forcing a temporary suspension of flights and triggering a brief shootout with security forces just days after a brazen Taliban assault on the country's busiest airfield.

Law enforcement personnel managed to quickly repulse the attack by as many as three gunmen, an assault claimed by a resurgent Taliban who warned its violence "wasn't over yet."

Television stations aired footage of security guards frantically taking up positions behind buildings or earthen berms at the training facility, roughly one kilometer (a half mile) from Karachi's Jinnah International Airport. The Pakistani military also sent soldiers to assist.

A spokesman for the Airport Security Force, Ghulam Abbas Memon, said two to three gunmen tried to enter the training academy from two different entrances.

"Our men retaliated and repulsed" the gunmen, Memon said. Security forces chased the men to a drainage ditch where another firefight ensued but the gunmen escaped, he said.

Col. Tahir Ali, a senior official with the Airport Security Force, said two militants fired toward a hostel for female employees on the academy grounds. He said no one was hurt in the incident.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which is responsible for running the country's airports, initially said on Twitter that all flights at the airport were suspended but later reported that operations had resumed.

"The aim of the attackers was to create a panic, and we shouldn't be playing into their hands," the head of airport force, Azam Khan, told Pakistani television.

The attackers retreated into the vast slum that borders the airport. Karachi is a sprawling city of at least 18 million people, and members of the Pakistani Taliban in recent years have migrated to the city from the northwest to escape military operations and drone strikes there. The result has been a steep deterioration in Karachi's security.

Tuesday's firefight came on the heels of a brazen siege Sunday night by 10 Taliban fighters who stormed a VIP and cargo terminal at the Karachi airport in an attack that killed 26 people and the Taliban gunmen. At least 11 members of the Airport Security Force were killed during that attack.

Pakistani authorities discovered more bodies from that siege Tuesday morning. Airport authorities found seven bodies in a burned building at the airport, charred beyond recognition, said the head of the Karachi Municipal Corporation, Rauf Akhtar Farooqi.

The discovery of the bodies, roughly a day after Pakistani officials said the airport had been secured, will raise more questions about security at the country's busiest airport.

Relatives of the dead reported receiving telephone calls from their loved ones trapped inside the burning building.

"The last I spoke to him, he said there was intense firing going on and that a building was also on fire," said Junaidul Haq, whose brother died. He said his brother told him that he was trapped with several of his colleagues.

Pakistani media reported that the seven were airport workers who hid from the fighting but got trapped and burned to death.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority, Mohammad Yusuf, said authorities tried to reach the building that was on fire twice during the siege but both times shots were fired on their vehicles. After security officials cleared the airport, they went back to search the building because there were reports of people trapped inside.

The Pakistani Taliban has been trying to overthrow the government and establish its hard-line rule across the country. The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif repeatedly has tried to negotiate with the militants to end the fighting but those efforts have collapsed.

The airport attack, coming against a high-profile target in a city vital to the country's economy, has raised questions about whether Sharif will continue to pursue the negotiations policy or choose a more aggressive, military response.

Early Tuesday, Pakistani military airstrikes targeted the Tirah Valley in the country's northwest. The military said it killed 25 suspected militants in strikes on nine hideouts, but the information could not be independently verified. The area is part of a lawless terrain along the Afghan border that is home to a mix of local militants and al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters.

___

Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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