Deadly shootout ensues after Taliban’s Pakistan airport attack

Fierce firing broke out on Sunday after police acting on an intelligence report stormed a building near the airport, where a suicide and rocket attack on Saturday killed five civilians and the five attackers, and wounded 50 other people.

The assault late on Saturday claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, sparked prolonged gunfire and forced authorities to close the airport, a commercial hub and Pakistan Air Force base in Peshawar on the edge of the tribal belt.

It was the second extremist militant attack in four months on a military air base in nuclear-armed Pakistan. In August, 11 people were killed when heavily-armed insurgents wearing suicide vests stormed a facility in the northwestern town of Kamra.

Police backed by troops launched a raid on early Sunday on a building under construction near the airport following reports that five militants – who fled after the airport attack  – had taken refuge there, according to Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain.

In the fierce shootout that followed, three militants and a policeman were killed, police said, while two other officers were wounded.

'Normal operations have resumed'
The clashes ended after six hours when the two remaining militants detonated their suicide vests inside the building, another senior police officer, Imtiaz Altaf, told the press.

"All five militants are dead now and the area has been cleared," Altaf said.

"All of them were wearing suicide jackets. Three were killed in a shoot-out with police, while two others blew themselves up in the under-construction building."

A Pakistan Air Force statement said five attackers were killed on Saturday and no damage was done to air force personnel or equipment.

Doctor Umar Ayub, chief of Khyber Teaching Hospital near the airport, said five civilians had also been killed and some 50 wounded.

"The base is in total control and normal operations have resumed. The security alert was also raised on other Pakistan Air Force bases as well," the air force added.

Damage done
Peshawar airport is a joint military-civilian facility. Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Pervez George said the passenger side had reopened after an 18-hour closure and there was no damage to the terminals.

The air force said Saturday's attackers used two vehicles loaded with explosives, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. One vehicle was destroyed and the second badly damaged.

Security forces found three suicide jackets near one of the vehicles, it said.

"Security forces consisting of Pakistan Air Force and Army personnel who were on full alert, cordoned off the base and effectively repulsed the attack," the air force said.

Television pictures showed a vehicle with a smashed windscreen, another damaged car, bushes on fire and what appeared to be a large breach in a wall.

Five nearby houses were destroyed after rockets landed on them and several other houses developed cracks, while the bomb squad detonated five out of eight bombs found near the base after the attack.

Threats to continue attack
Pakistan's Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Agence France-Presse by telephone from an undisclosed location that the group would continue to target the airport.

"Our target was jet fighter plans and gunship helicopters and soon we will target them again," he said.

The armed forces have been waging a bloody campaign against the Taliban in the country's northwest in recent years and the militants frequently attack military targets.

Aside from the August attack on Kamra, in May 2011 it took 17 hours to quell an assault claimed by the Taliban on an air base in Karachi. The attack piled embarrassment on the armed forces just three weeks after US troops killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Pakistan says more than 35 000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Its forces have for years been battling home-grown militants in the northwest. – Sapa-AFP

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