PESHAWAR – A Taliban suicide squad staged an audacious car bomb, rocket and gun attack on Peshawar Airport on Saturday night, in which nine people, including five attackers, were killed.
In one of the deadliest raids since a pre-dawn assault on a PAF airbase in Kamra in August, militants armed with rockets and suicide vests attacked Bacha Khan International Airport, which handles civilian and military traffic, on the outskirts of Peshawar, killing four people and wounding 40 others.
The unprecedented attack on the airport, a commercial hub and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base, sparked a prolonged volley of gunfire as army officials launched a counter operation.
According to Civil Aviation Authority, the terrorists – among them three suicide bombers – were five in numbers and were all killed. Contrarily, claiming the responsibility for the attack, Ehsanullah Ehsan – spokesperson for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan – said they had fielded 10 men to target the air force base.
Police officials said one of the suicide bombers, rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into the outer wall of the air field, while others attempted to sneak inside but got killed in a 30-minute long trade of fire with security forces. The officials further said the suicide bombing attempt followed rocket attacks. In all, three rockets were fired, but they missed the targets and landed several hundred metres away from the passenger terminals in a congested locality, University Town, wounding dozens of people and damaging several houses.
The injured, including women and children, were ferried to the Khyber Teaching Hospital. Umar Ayub, chief executive of the Lady Reading Hospital, said, “They received 31 injured. All of them suffered bullet injuries and some of the injured are in critical condition. An emergency has been declared in the hospital and all the surgeons have been called.”
Soon after the well-coordinated attack, a massive contingent of police and security forces was deputed in the area and the airport was sealed off from all sides.
Officials of the Bomb Disposal Squad said they defused four suicide jackets near the blast site. The rocket attacks and powerful blast jolted the entire city and triggered fear among the citizens. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, only one commercial flight was present at the airport at the time of the attack. A CAA official said the plane had arrived from Jeddah a few minutes before the attack. He, however, added that none of the passengers was hurt.
The Pakistani Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened to carry more such attacks in the near future. “We carried out this suicide attack, we will carry more such attacks on this airport,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location. “Our target was jet fighter planes and gunship helicopters and soon we will target them again,” he said.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain confirmed it was a terrorist attack that Pakistani security forces thwarted. He said that a search operation was in progress that would lead to a final conclusion.
In a statement, the PAF said none of the terrorist could penetrate inside the air field, which lies near a residential area and military barracks in Peshawar. It said that four terrorists have also been killed and one injured. “Four suicide jackets have been defused... Joint Operation consisting of all security agencies is in progress to clear the area.”
According to Tariq Mahmood, spokesperson for the PAF, no damage to PAF assets and personnel occurred within the air base. “Security forces were fully alert and are in control of the situation,” he said. A military official said “We have repulsed the attack on the airport”.
Meanwhile, all Peshawar-bound flights were diverted to the Lahore and Islamabad airports over security concerns, while a red alert was declared at all important airports in the country.