PESHAWAR: Armed militants fired rockets into the Bacha Khan International Airport, killing five people and injuring 46 others here on Saturday evening.
In the biggest attack so far on the Peshawar airport by militants, all the five attackers were killed during an exchange of fire with the security forces. One of the attackers, wearing a suicide jacket, blew himself up inside the airport.
Some media reports said six people were killed in the attack.
Officials said the militants armed with suicide jackets, an explosives-laden vehicle, rocket launchers and automatic weapons stormed the Bacha Khan International Airport, located adjacent to the base of the Pakistan Air Force, at around 8 pm and tried to enter the airport building.
A source said the militants wanted to take an explosives-filled car inside the airport but they were killed before they could reach the main compound where a flight was about to take off for Saudi Arabia.
The attackers fired three rockets, two of which landed inside the airport, but the main compound remained safe.
Some reports said five rockets were fired, including two that hit residential areas close to the airport. A house and two cars were also damaged in an area close to the airport. Peshawar airport is surrounded by congested residential localities.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said one rocket hit a building near the airport, causing casualties. Earlier, he had conceded the loss of two lives and injuries to another 10 in the incident. Later, the death toll kept rising.
Militants also opened indiscriminate fire after the rocket attacks and the exchange of fire continued for around two hours.
Security officials said the militants simultaneously fired rockets and rammed the explosives-laden car into the boundary wall of the airport.
“Most of the casualties happened due to the huge blast caused by the explosives-laden car,” said a security official. The explosions were heard all over Peshawar and beyond and caused a scare among the people, particularly in the Peshawar Cantonment where the airport is located.
The district coordination officer (DCO), Peshawar, Javed Marwat confirmed the death of five people and injuries to 46 others. The DCO told media people that security had been beefed up on intelligence reports about more such attacks. He said the situation was under control.
The bodies and the wounded people were taken to the Khyber Teaching Hospital. A number of those wounded in the attack were children and women.
At one stage, the administration of the hospital said it had received five bodies which were to be kept in the mortuary and 25 injured persons for treatment. The hospital’s head Dr Umar Ayub appealed to the surgeons and other doctors to report for duty immediately as an emergency had been declared there to deal with the situation.
Officials of the Civil Aviation Authority said all the 120 passengers of PK 755 leaving for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are safe inside the terminal.
The official said a flight from Karachi to Peshawar was diverted to Islamabad after the attack. The official said so far there are no reports of any damage to the PAF installations.
Flight operations were suspended after the attack and the airport and adjacent areas were sealed. The main University Road and all roads close to the airport and the airbase were closed by the security personnel.
Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Amir Haider Hoti to get details of the incident. Hoti apprised Raja about the latest situation.
The Bacha Khan International Airport is located in the main cantonment area but its boundary wall is hardly few kilometres from the tribal Khyber Agency. Rockets were fired at the airport on a number of occasions in the past. A blast also went off inside the airport building in 2007, injuring some people.
Reuters adds: Khyber Teaching Hospital Chief Executive Umar Ayub saidL: “All of the victims suffered bullet injuries and some of the injured are in a critical condition.”
AFP adds: A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed they had carried out the suicide attack on the Peshawar airport.