Pakistan: Troops end attack on Karachi naval air base

BBC's Aleem Maqbool says the attack was "very coordinated, sophisticated"

Pakistani troops have ended a siege by militants who attacked a naval air force base in Karachi, killing at least 16 people - including 10 soldiers.

The attackers managed to hold hostage several foreigners at the base, but officials say they were later rescued.

The Pakistan Taliban says Sunday's raid was to avenge Osama Bin Laden's killing by US special forces in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on 2 May.

Many attacks have been carried out since then.

"It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama Bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful," Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters news agency.

At the scene

Clouds of black smoke billowed over the Mehran airbase when I arrived about half an hour after the attack began.

Ambulances, with sirens wailing, stood outside the gate of the compound, which was sealed soon after the attack began. They were joined by dozens of TV satellite trucks and journalists.

Initially, there was intermittent gunfire. However, 15 minutes after I arrived there was an exchange of fire that lasted for several minutes.

We had to lie on the ground as bullets and shrapnel whizzed over our heads.

After successfully freeing hostages captured by the gunmen, security forces swept through the complex to mop up any remaining resistance.

They were backed by gunship helicopters - which kept a constant vigil over the air base.

It took more than 15 hours for dozens of security forces to take control of the base.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said 10 soldiers had died and 15 were wounded in the attack.

Two attackers were also killed and a third blew himself up. Another is believed to be buried under debris and two more are thought to have escaped.

An unexploded suicide jacket and live grenades were found, the minister added.

There were 17 foreigners at the site, including 11 Chinese aviation trainers, but all are safe, Mr Malik said. He added that all of them were later rescued uninjured.

The attack is similar to a raid in October 2009 in which Taliban militants laid siege to the army headquarters in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, killing dozens.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says the Karachi incident will revive fears about the security of Pakistan's nuclear installations.

It is also another major blow to falling morale of the military after the raid on Bin Laden, correspondents say.

Aircraft burned

On Sunday evening at 2230 (1730 GMT), militants stormed three hangars housing aircraft at the Mehran naval aviation base, according to officials.

Mr Malik said they cut through barbed wire at a place on the perimeter where they could not be detected by security cameras, and they were wearing black.

However, eyewitnesses say the attackers were dressed as naval officials and were aware of the security protocol at the base and carried themselves like soldiers.

Their first targets were aircraft parked on the tarmac and equipment in nearby hangers, says the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan at the scene.

The militants used rocket-propelled grenades to damage and destroy several warplanes, witnesses said. These included the Pakistan navy's premier anti-submarine and marine surveillance aircraft - the US-made P-3C Orion.

At least two of these multi-million dollar planes were set ablaze.

Satellite image showing the location of the Mehran naval air base in Karachi

The gunmen then opened indiscriminate fire, killing several naval personnel as they carried their raid into the heart of the base.

Subsequently, navy commandos and marines launched a counter-assault. Dozens of heavily armed army reinforcements also arrived to provide cover, backed by gunship helicopters.

Some of the militants were killed, officials say.

It took the security forces more than 15 hours to secure the base.

Officials say that troops were now combing the base for any remaining militants but they have to be careful because of military aircraft on the site.

"Because of the presence of several assets on the base, the operation is being carried out in a cautious, smart way," Irfan ul Haq told the Associated Press news agency.

"That's why it's taking so long."

On Friday, the Taliban bombed a US consulate convoy in Peshawar, killing one Pakistani.

Other attacks by Pakistani militants this month include a raid on a security post that killed two police in the north-west and a twin suicide bombing at a paramilitary police training centre.

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