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Taliban Claim Responsibility For Karachi Airport Attack


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. We are following the aftermath of a deadly attack last night in Pakistan, at that country's busiest international airport in the southern port city of Karachi. The airport is now open again.

A short while ago, it was a scene of chaos there. A gun battle between militants and security lasted hours. At least 28 people were killed at Jinnah International Airport, including the 10 attackers. The Pakistani Taliban is taking credit for carrying this out. We're joined on the line from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, by NPR's Philip Reeves. Phil, could you just start by giving us the details of exactly what happened last night at this airport.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Yes. The Taliban arrived shortly before midnight, local time, armed with grenades, machine guns and at least one rocket launcher. Some of them were disguised as security forces. They attacked in two different places, a technical area in the south of the airport and a terminal that's used for carvel and VIP flights. Paramilitary forces were rushed in. Army troops were called in. The airport shutdown. Passengers and staff were cleared out of the area. And a battle began and continued, off and on, for around five hours. It was a very big fire that lit up the night sky over this vast city of Karachi. And in all, 10 militants wound up dead and at least 18 others. Most of the 18 were airport security guards, but they also include airline and aviation officials and a couple of security forces. And around dawn, the security forces said they had killed all the militants, and it was over.

GREENE: Over, but after, I mean, just hours of chaos there, it sounds like - any idea yet, why the Taliban would do this?

REEVES: The Taliban says, this is revenge. They say it's revenge for recent military strikes against them by Pakistan's armed forces in the mountains bordering Afghanistan. And it's revenge, they say, for the assassination of their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed last year by a U.S. drone. There's also been a lot of attention, recently, on reports of a big split within the Pakistani Taliban, and this looks, to me, like an attempt by them to show that they can still carry out big, complex, high-profile assaults - this one, against a major civilian installation target in Pakistan's biggest city. That's very alarming for the government, obviously, especially as the Taliban's warning of more attacks.

GREENE: Alarming for the government - and I mean, this is a government that has faced some criticism for how it has handled the Taliban and whether it's made people secure enough. Any reaction from the government yet, at this point?

REEVES: Well you know, for months now, there's been a big argument here about what to do about the Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban's been waging war against the state for roughly seven years. Government officials reckon that more than 40,000 people have been killed. The Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was elected on a promise of making peace with the Taliban. And he's been trying to do that. A few months back, the two sides started talking very tentatively, but the negotiations went nowhere. Those talks are very controversial, and for Sharif, the biggest issue here is the view taken by Pakistan's powerful army and intelligence agencies.

Let's not forget that more than half of its history in Pakistan has been under military rule. Now, it's well known that they have, over the years, covertly used Islamist militant groups as proxies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. But they tend to view the Pakistani Taliban as their sworn enemy. Many within the Army, you know, are against doing a peace deal with them. This is an issue that Sharif has to consider in his efforts to try to make peace. The war with the Taliban's been very brutal at times. Atrocities have been committed by both sides. Not long ago, the Taliban beheaded a group of Pakistani paramilitary forces, and that sort of thing, obviously, really reinforces opposition within the military to attempts to do a peace deal.

GREENE: You could see a peace deal now - a lot of questions will be raised about that idea in the wake of this. What exactly does the Army want to do, Phil, if they disagree with the idea of a peace deal?

REEVES: Well, it seems clear that many within the Army do want to see a big military operation in the Mountain Tribal Belt to try to crush the Taliban there. And this attack on the Karachi airport means that there'll be more pressure for the. But, you know, sending in the Army is complicated. Success is far from certain. Past operations have caused a flood internally displaced people. Civilians get killed. That causes a backlash against the government. So there are no good options. And all this is happening at a time when the Pakistanis are worrying about what's happening in Afghanistan and whether instability there will spill over into Pakistan when troops leave.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Philip Reeves joining us from Islamabad, talking to us about a major attack on the busiest international airport in Pakistan. Philip, Thank you very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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