KARACHI - Heavily armed militants attacked country’s busiest airport in Karachi Sunday night, killing at least a dozen people and reportedly damaging five airplanes.

Around 16-20 attackers forced their entry through Fokker Gate of Cargo Terminal, which has also been used for the Nato supplies, and went on a shooting and bombing spree.

Flights were suspended and the army was called amid fears about the possibility of a prolonged siege similar to other brazen attacks on key installations in recent years. Red alert was sounded at all the airports of the country.

By 2am, the security forces said they had killed at least one assailant. At around 2:30am ISPR director general Asif Bajwa said all passengers for the planes have been evacuated and they had secured the airport by cornering the assailants.

The director of the city’s main Jinnah Hospital, doctor Seemi Jamali said five dead bodies had been brought in and the hospital had declared an emergency. She added that four were ASF personnel while identity of one body was yet to be ascertained. She said they had also received seven wounded.

In the early hours of the attack Civil Aviation Authority Spokesman Abid Qaimkhani said: “Four to five terrorists have managed to reach the runway of Karachi International Airport.” But later reports suggested that the number of terrorists was between 16 and 20 and they appeared to be Uzbek and Tajik.

“They (attackers) are heavily armed with ammunition and grenades and Airport Security Force (ASF) commandos have cordoned off the area along with police and rangers... A gun battle is continuing between terrorists and forces,” Qaimkhani said.

A paramilitary ranger engaged in the operation said the militants had entered through the Engineering Section of the Pakistan International Airlines near the airport’s old terminal. “They gunned down the ASF security before entering,” he said.

Sources inside the airport disclosed that at least three plans were damaged including two local passenger planes and one Russian Cargo Plane. Terrorists also targeted the Oil Terminal and other private planes parked in the private hangers.

Security agencies believed that the militants managed to get access from the area adjacent to the Gulistan-e-Johar and Model Colony in two groups where they were seen cutting off the airport fence by some eyewitnesses.

Army spokesman Colonel Nayer said that troops had been deployed from the Malir cantonment near the airport. “They have reached the scene,” he said. A reporter of a foreign news agency at the airport said a truck-full of army commandos had arrived and that the gunfire which was previously fierce had now grown sporadic.

Broken glass and used gun magazines littered the engineering section where the first exchange of gunfire had taken place as smoke from grenade attacks began to die down. Eye-witness Sarmad Hussain, a PIA employee, said: “I heard fierce firing and then saw the terrorists firing at security forces. I don’t know a lot more than that. Thank God I am alive, this is very scary.” A police official who did not wish to be identified said an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade had been recovered.

The four dead ASF personnel were identified as Crew Abdul Malik, PC Fakharul Hassan, ASI Tariq Mehmood and PC Muntazir. A PIA spokesman, Mashud Tajwar added that two domestic flights bound for Karachi had been diverted to nearby airports.

Sources inside the airport revealed that terrorists targeted three different points between the Cargo Terminal to Ispahani Hanger. They said terrorists targeted three highly sensitive assets – Shown Terminal, Oil Terminal and DG Base. They said that two highly expensive air surveillance plans of Civil Aviation, Oil Terminal and other private plans were hit by the militants.

Sources said that Cargo terminal has been used for the transportation of the Nato supplies and it is believed that the sensitive Nato goods could be the prime target of the attackers as the Nato air operation has been continuing from this terminal for last couple of months. The supplies were transported to Karachi from Afghanistan to move them back to the United States.

Army troops immediately rushed at the airport and took the control of the airport while rangers, police and other security agencies were deployed at the outer circle of the airport. Pakistan Air force have also started the air surveillance of the airport and coordinated with the troops on ground to eradicate militants. Security agencies have suspended the electricity at all terminals of the airport.

Taking notice of the incident, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed to cleanse the terrorists from the airport to ensure security of national assets. He said all measures should be taken to ensure protection of life of trapped people.

Chief of Army Staff General Rahil Sharif made telephonic contact with Karachi Corps Commander and DG Rangers to control the situation. Defence Minister Kh Asif condemned the attack and sought report in this connection. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah visited the airport and urged to take stern action against the militants.