June 9 (Bloomberg) -- Taliban fighters who attacked Karachi’s international airport were armed with rocket launchers and planned to take hostages, Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, told reporters today.
Pakistani security forces cleared the country’s biggest airport today after killing 10 Taliban fighters who carried out a late-night attack on an aircraft maintenance facility. Flames and smoke billowed above the terminal last night during a gun battle between security forces and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, known as the TTP, which claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 19 others.
“If we are attacked then there will be a complete and full response,” Khan told reporters at the airport today. “But there is a way to it and it will be in front of you. You need patience and tolerance. This will require to unify and mobilize the entire Pakistani nation.”
The first-ever attack on Pakistan’s largest airport deals a blow to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to end an insurgency that has killed 50,000 people since 2001 and stifled economic growth. Pakistan faces a growing threat from Taliban fighters near the border as the U.S. withdraws forces from neighboring Afghanistan, according to Rohan Gunaratna at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“This is a clear indication that the threat of terrorism is spreading from tribal Pakistan to mainland Pakistan and its cities,” said Gunaratna, who heads the school’s International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research. “The threat posed by Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to both countries and the region is very significant.”
Some 19 security personnel and airport employees were killed, Karachi police spokesman Atiq Shaikh said in an e-mailed statement. No passengers were injured.
“It was revenge for the torture our comrades have been facing in jails and military action in Waziristan,” Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman, said by phone today, referring to a region near the Afghan border. “Now the government should get ready for more.”
Pakistan’s benchmark KSE-100 Index fell 0.1 percent at the close in Karachi, while the rupee fell 0.1 percent to 98.6 per dollar.
“The market has pretty much ignored the attack,” Saad Khan, an economist at the Karachi-based brokerage Arif Habib Ltd., said by phone. “Security forces have managed to re- capture the airport quickly.”
Jinnah International Airport, which handles all routine domestic and international flights from Karachi, has reopened and will resume flights at 4 p.m., Mashhood Tajwar, spokesman for state-run Pakistan International Airlines Corp., said by phone from the city.
Militants who entered the facility through two entrances sought to destroy aircraft and cripple the nation’s aviation services, state-run broadcaster PTV said, citing an initial report on the attack submitted to Sharif.
“The attackers appeared to be Uzbek nationals who attacked a cargo terminal in Karachi and set fire there,” Major General Rizwan Akhtar, director-general of the Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary force, said on state-run PTV today. Sixteen security officials were injured in the attack and many of them are in critical condition, he said.
Soldiers evacuated passengers from an Emirates airplane last night and took them to a secure area of the terminal, the Dubai-based carrier said in a statement. As many as 20 flights of Pakistan International Airlines were delayed, Tajwar said, adding that security measures have been enhanced at all 23 of Pakistan’s domestic and international airports.
Karachi is Pakistan’s economic hub and generates about half the tax revenue of South Asia’s second-biggest economy. The port and financial center is a transit point for everything from U.S. military equipment to Afghan opium, and has recently seen Taliban fighters taking control of parts of the city.
Taliban militants said in April they were ending a cease- fire with Sharif’s government designed to facilitate peace talks that began in March. Pakistan has conducted attacks on militants over the past month in Waziristan, where foreign fighters including Uzbeks have gathered after U.S. troops ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in 2001.
No passengers were injured or aircraft hijacked, the Pakistani army said in a post on Twitter. During the attack, men dressed in security uniforms opened fire with automatic weapons and grenades at an older building about two kilometers (1.2 miles) away from the main terminal.
Television images showed some of the gunmen arriving at a security checkpoint late last night in a white van and opening fire on guards before driving into the compound.
The attackers then set off a series of explosives, and fires could be seen raging at the airport, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky over Karachi. The army moved in and the ensuing siege lasted at least five hours.
Karachi saw gunfire and cars torched last week after police in London arrested Altaf Hussain, who runs the city’s largest political party even though he’s lived in the U.K. for the past 22 years. He was freed on bail two days ago.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the murdered Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party that runs the government in the Karachi area, condemned the attack, according to Asif Waheed, a spokesman for Zardari.
--With assistance from Morwenna Coniam in Hong Kong, David Lerman in Washington and Faseeh Mangi in Karachi.