At least 23 people have been killed after gunmen disguised as police guards attacked a terminal at Pakistan’s Jinnah international airport in Karachi.Militants armed with automatic weapons, a rocket launcher and grenades stormed the airport before midnight and were involved in an intense six-hour firefight with the airport’s security force, police, paramilitaries and commandos.
Ten of the dead were the attackers, according to Pakistan’s paramilitary Rangers.
Also killed were at least four airport security staff, civilian airport employees and four Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) staff.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack saying it was in revenge for their late leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in November.
Television footage showed what appeared to be a major fire and plumes of smoke rising from the runway where planes were parked.
Heavy gunfire and multiple explosions could be heard coming from the terminal as authorities scrambled to secure the area.
The terminal targeted by the fighters was said to be used for VIPs and cargo.
Officials said the airport had been completely evacuated of passengers.
All flights are currently suspended “and have been diverted to other cities”, a civil aviation authority spokesman said.
Pakistan’s military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa confirmed an end to operation, saying: “Update: Area cleared. No damage to aircraft, fire visible in pics was not plane but a building, now extinguished. All vital assets intact.”
Maj Gen Bajwa added that ammunition, rockets and grenades were recovered from the dead attackers.
“Precautionary sweep after day light. Airport will be cleared by midday for operations, handed back to CAA (Civil Aviation Authority)/ASF (Airport Security Force). Pakistan Zindabad (long live Pakistan)!” he later tweeted.
The attack will raise fresh concerns about Pakistan’s security situation, and questions about how militants were able to penetrate the airport which serves one of the world’s biggest cities.
Karachi has been the site of frequent militant attacks in the past.
While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, Pakistan’s government has been trying to negotiate a peace deal with militants based mainly in the northwest of the country.