LAHORE, Pakistan – The Taliban claimed responsibility for a brazen siege on Karachi's Jinnah International Airport overnight Monday that left at least 23 dead, in retaliation for drone strikes on villages in Pakistan's troubled northwest border region.
The militant group vowed to continue their campaign.
"This is just the beginning," Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told the Express Tribune, a Pakistani daily.
The attack began late overnight Monday after 10 men armed with machine guns, grenades and rocket launchers stormed the busy airport at a terminal for cargo and VIP passengers, known as the old airport, military officials said. Some of the attackers were wearing suicide vests, with at least one blowing himself up as law enforcement approached.
The attackers, who were all killed by special army commandos, had been disguised as airport security personnel. Ten members of the security forces were also killed, as was a flight engineer for the country's state airline, Pakistan International Airlines.
Flights were suspended and the airport was shut temporarily as plumes of smoke rose from the terminal. Military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said the airport will resume operations Monday.
The Pakistan Taliban and other associated militant groups, who in the last years have increased their presence in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city and its main commercial hub, said the attack was also in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud late last year.
The airport attack closely coincides with a coordinated suicide bombing in the Baluchistan Province in which 23 Shiite Muslims were reported killed after returning from a pilgrimage from Iran, which the province borders. The Taliban is also being blamed for an attack on a military complex near the Rawalpindi district in northern Pakistan
While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif started a tentative peace process with the Taliban earlier this year, talks have broken down. Meanwhile, the government has resumed airstrikes against the militants in the North Waziristan area.
Meanwhile, locals in Karachi and elsewhere said the attacks highlight the poor security situation in the country and the ineffectiveness of the government to contain militants.
"One thinks that the airport is a place where you can feel safe and secure but unfortunately it is as unsafe as the roads of Karachi — we are not safe anywhere in Karachi — not even in our homes," said Usama Ahmed, 26, of Karachi.
"We all are the victims of yesterday's event, we all have lost close ones … or have family friends who have lost relatives."
"The government and the military should be ashamed of itself, what excuse can you give for such a security lapse," added Sania Iqra, 31, of Karachi. "And this isn't the first time we have seen this in Karachi, even so-called red zones are not safe, so what exactly is safe now?"