The Pakistani Taliban on Monday claimed responsibility for a brazen five-hour assault on the country's busiest airport that saw gunmen disguised as police guards storm the international terminal in Karachi, set off explosions and kill 18 people.
The Taliban said the assault on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province, was in revenge for the killing last November of the militant group's leader in a U.S. drone strike.
The claim further diminished prospects for a resumption of government-led peace talks with the Taliban. Those talks floundered in recent weeks and the Taliban have called off a cease-fire they declared during negotiations. Since then, Pakistani troops have carried out airstrikes in the country's troubled northwest to target militant hideouts, killing dozens of suspected militants. Residents claim several civilians were also killed in the strikes.
The Karachi assault started late Sunday when 10 gunmen, at least some disguised as policemen, opened fire with machine-guns and rocket launchers, triggering a gunbattle with police during which all the attackers were killed, said Rizwan Akhtar, the chief of Pakistan's elite paramilitary Rangers.
Heavy gunfire and multiple explosions were heard coming from the terminal, used for VIP flights and cargo, as militants and security forces battled for control. A major fire rose from the airport, illuminating the night sky in an orange glow as the silhouettes of jets could be seen. As dawn broke Monday, smoke could still be seen billowing in the air.
Authorities diverted incoming flights and suspended all flight operations.
An Emirates flight in Karachi bound for Dubai had to be cancelled and passengers were escorted off the plane because of the fighting.
"The passengers and crew disembarked the aircraft and were taken to a secure area of the terminal," the Dubai-based carrier said. It didn't say how many passengers were onboard.
The airline is by far the Middle East's biggest and operates multiple daily flights to Karachi and other Pakistani cities. It said the airport's closure would continue to affect other flights into Karachi. Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, said Monday it was delaying its own flights to Karachi and would monitor the situation.
The Civil Aviation Authority said security forces had given them back control of the airport.