The Movement of the Taliban claimed credit for last night’s assault on Jinnah Airport in Karachi that shut down all flights, and said the attack was executed to avenge the death of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the former leader of the group who was killed in a US drone strike last year.
The assault was executed by 10 heavily armed Taliban fighters, some of whom are said to be of Uzbek nationality, Pakistani officials told Dawn. If true, these are likely to be members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the jihadist group that is allied with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and al Qaeda.
The Taliban fighters clashed with Pakistani police and airport security guards at a terminal for nearly six hours until the fighting ended. Security officials confirmed that the airport was cleared of Taliban fighters 12 hours after the assault began. Flights to and from the airport were suspended during the fighting.
All 10 Taliban fighters and other 18 people, including 11 security guards and four airport workers, were killed during the fighting.
Pakistani officials claimed that the Taliban sought to destroy the airplanes at the terminal.
Taliban groups on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have viewed air bases and airports as significant targets. Two of the more prominent attacks over the past several years include the Afghan Taliban’s assault on Camp Bastion in Helmand in September 2012 (two US Marines were killed, and six Harriers were destroyed and two more were damaged); and the Pakistani Taliban’s attack on Pakistani Naval Station Mehran in Karachi in May 2011 (10 Pakistani troops were killed, and two US-made P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes were destroyed and another was damaged).
Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid took credit for last night’s assault, and said it was executed to avenge the death of Hakeemullah, who was killed by US drones in November 2013, as well as revenge for military attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
“We carried out this attack on the Karachi airport and it is a message to the Pakistan government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” Shahid said, according to Dawn.
“It’s just the beginning, we have taken revenge for one [Hakeemullah], we have to take revenge for hundreds,” he continued, indicating that the ceasefire between the government and the Taliban has been discarded.
Shahid also described the Pakistani government’s negotiating tactics as a “tool of war.”
As talks between the Taliban and the government broke down over the past several months, the Pakistani military launched a series of attacks against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as well as against groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party in North Waziristan. The Taliban have claimed the military has used indiscriminate force and has leveled villages.
Yesterday’s attack took place less than two weeks after a faction of the Mehsud branch of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Khalid Mehsud, also known as Sajna Mehsud, split from the large movement. Sajna favors peace talks with the government, and has allied with the so-called “good Taliban” groups such as the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group. The “good Taliban,” who are supported by Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, do not favor attacking the Pakistani state but do support al Qaeda and other foreign terror groups, and also support the jihad in Afghanistan.