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Pakistan: Gunmen in deadly attack on airport

Gunmen disguised as police guards attacked a terminal at Pakistan’s busiest airport with machine guns and a rocket launcher, killing at least 13 people as explosions echoed into the night.

Meanwhile a separate suicide bombing in the country’s south west killed 23 Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, named after the founder of Pakistan, nor the suicide bombing in Baluchistan province.

But the attacks come as government-led peace talks with the local Taliban faction and other militants have floundered in recent weeks.

The airport attack raged for about five hours in Karachi, although officials said all the passengers had been evacuated.

Heavy gunfire and multiple explosions could be heard coming from the terminal, used for VIP flights and cargo and a major fire rose from the airport, illuminating the night sky in an orange glow as the silhouettes of jets could be seen.

The deadly operation was carried out by 10 militants, said chief minister of Sindh province Qaim Ali Shah.

“They were well trained. Their plan was very well thought out,” he said. They intended to destroy some of the aircraft and buildings, but were not able to, he said.

The spokesman for the Pakistani military said on Twitter that no aircraft were damaged and as a precautionary measure, security forces were sweeping the airport before operations would be returned to the Civil Aviation Authority and airport police.

“I was working at my office when I heard big blasts – several blasts – and then there were heavy gunshots,” Sarmad Hussain, a PIA employee, said after escaping the building. He said he and a colleague jumped out of a window to get away, and his colleague broke his leg.

An official said at least some of the militants were wearing Airport Security Force uniforms and all were strapped with explosives.

He said one of them tried to capture a vehicle used by the Civil Aviation Authority and when a guard shot at him, the explosives strapped to his body went off. The official said another attacker was also blown up after being shot at by security forces.

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city and has been the site of frequent militant attacks in the past. It is the country’s economic heart and any militant activity targeting the airport likely would strike a heavy blow at foreign investment in the country.

In May 2011, militants waged an 18-hour siege at a naval base in Karachi, killing 10 people in an assault that deeply embarrassed its armed forces.

Pakistan’s government has been trying to negotiate a peace deal with local Taliban fighters and other militants mostly based in the north west who have been waging war against the government. But the talks have had little success, raising fears of a backlash of attacks across the country.

Security officials in Karachi had feared that if the talks broke down, their city would be a likely spot for militant groups to strike back as the Pakistani Taliban and their allies increasingly have gained a foothold in the city in recent years.

In the suicide bombing, four bombers targeted Shiite pilgrims staying at a hotel in the town of Tuftan near the Iranian border. One bomber was killed by security officials travelling with the pilgrims, but the other three managed to get inside the hotel where they blew themselves up in an attack that also wounded 10 people.

It was not immediately clear whether there was a connection between the airport assault and the Baluchistan attack.

Jinnah Hospital in Karachi said 13 bodies had been brought from the fighting. Nine were Airport Security Force members, one a member of the paramilitary Rangers, one from the police, one a Civil Aviation Authority employee and another from state-run Pakistan International Airlines.

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