Taliban siege at Karachi naval air base ends, 14 killed: Rehman Malik

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, saying it was part of their revenge for the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Last Updated: May 24, 2011, 09:24 AM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Karachi: All the terrorists who stormed a naval base in Karachi have been killed after 15 hours of gun battles, Pakistan`s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Monday, adding no one had been taken hostage.

Announcing that the terrorist attack on the PNS Mehran base that began late on Sunday had been put down "successfully", Malik said the heavily armed attackers killed 10 security personnel and firemen.

He said the bodies of three terrorists had been recovered. The head of another terrorist, presumed to be a suicide bomber, was found. Fifteen people were injured in the mayhem.

Calling it a "pre-planned" operation at one of Pakistan`s biggest military bases, Malik said a high alert had been issued across the country fearing more attacks from Islamists angered by Osama bin Laden`s killing.

The minister, who reached the base before dawn Monday, said all 17 foreigners at the base -- 11 Chinese and six Americans -- were whisked away quickly to safety by alert security personnel.

"Nobody has been taken hostage," he said.

Giving the sequence of events, the minister said the attackers sneaked into the heavily guarded complex using two ladders and cutting the barbed wire fencing on the high compound walls.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault in the city of Karachi, saying it was part of their revenge for the May 02 American raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. The al Qaeda-allied group said the insurgents were under orders to fight until the death.

Between 10 and 15 insurgents armed with grenades, rockets and automatic weapons stormed Naval Station Mehran late on Sunday before splitting into smaller groups, setting off explosions and hiding in the sprawling facility.

The raid was one of the most audacious in years of militant violence in Pakistan. The insurgent`s ability to penetrate the high-security facility rattled a military establishment already humiliated by the unilateral American raid on bin Laden, and raised the possibility they had inside help.

It will also likely lead to more questions over the safety of Pakistan`s nuclear weapons. In 2009, Islamist terrorists stormed army headquarters close to the capital, holding hostages for 22 hours. But unlike the attack Sunday in Karachi, the attackers then failed to deeply penetrate the complex.

The attack resembled the 2008 siege of Mumbai, India, and a number of other similar raids in Pakistan in which heavily armed squads of insurgents go out in teams, occupy a property and fight to the death. It was one of the first such strike in Karachi, the country`s largest city and economic hub.

The unilateral US raid on bin Laden`s compound in the northwest Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad has triggered a strong backlash here against Washington as well as rare domestic criticism of the armed forces for failing to detect or prevent the American operation. Pakistani leaders insist they had no idea the al Qaeda boss had been hiding in Abbottabad.

This is the third major attack the group has claimed since the bin Laden killing, including a car bombing that slightly injured American consulate workers in the northwest city of Peshawar and a twin-suicide attack that killed around 90 Pakistani paramilitary police recruits.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack, saying such a "cowardly act of terror could not deter the commitment of the government and people of Pakistan to fight terrorism”.

The raid began with at least three loud explosions, which were heard by people who live around the naval air station.

Authorities had sent in several dozen navy and police commandos to battle the attackers, who responded with gunfire and grenades, said Salman Ali, a Navy spokesman.
The attackers targeted P-3C Orion aircraft, two of which were destroyed. But acting quickly, Pakistan Rangers towed away some other Orion aircraft.

The United States handed over two Orions to the Pakistani navy at a ceremony at the base in June 2010 attended by 250 Pakistani and American officials, according to the website of the US Central Command. It said by late 2012, Pakistan would have eight of the planes.

US embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez said no Americans were on the base at the time of the raid.

Karachi, a city of around 18 million people, has not been spared the violence sweeping the country, despite being in the south far from the northwest where militancy is at its strongest. In April, militants bombed three buses taking Navy employees to work, killing at least nine people.

The Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups have little direct public support, but the Army and the government have struggled to convince the people of the need for armed operations against them. The militants` identification with Islam, strong anti-American rhetoric and support for insurgents in Afghanistan resonates with some in the country.

Security has been tightened across Pakistan following the
attack, particularly at military installations and in the
federal and provincial capitals.

With IANS Inputs