PESHAWAR: Security forces on Sunday killed five more militants – said to be Uzbeks – in a fierce gunbattle in Pawaki village, just one kilometre from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) airbase in Peshawar, clearing the area off miscreants after the Saturday night’s attack on the Bacha Khan International Airport and PAF base. The airport was cleared 16 hours after the assault.
A police commando, Sareer Khan, was also killed and two other cops wounded during the six-hour-long gunbattle between the militants and police supported by soldiers of the Pakistan Army. The militants had taken shelter inside an under-construction house in Pawaki after the botched attack on the PAF airbase. There were reports that two policemen were killed in the incident that shocked the people of Peshawar.
The commandos of the Peshawar Police and Elite Force as well as soldiers of the Pakistan Army launched the operation on Sunday morning after receiving reports that some militants who had attacked the airport and the adjacent airbase on Saturday night were hiding in a building in Pawaki village.
“Two attackers blew themselves up while the other three were gunned down inside the house. These were the people who had attacked the airport last night,” Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Imtiaz Altaf told reporters.The CCPO said the police had been tipped off about the presence of the militants inside the building when the cops were conducting a search operation after the Saturday night attack.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour said the police could not cordon off the entire Peshawar and this was the reason that the attackers managed to hide in the house in Pawaki. “The police did a great job by taking out all the attackers before they could reach their target,” he maintained.
All the militants killed on Sunday were said to be wearing suicide jackets and four seemed to be non-locals. Some sources suspected four of the attackers to be Uzbeks. A tattoo was also inscribed on the body of one of the slain militants, a source said, adding that it might be the emblem of a militant organisation. The presence of Uzbeks affiliated to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in the two Waziristans under the protection of local militants has been confirmed in the past.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had sent 10 attackers to accomplish the mission. The TTP spokesman Ihsasnullah Ihsan called different media organisations to announce that their target was the PAF installations at the airbase.
Pawaki remained tense and was mourning the deaths and injuries to a number of villagers who became victim of the attack late Saturday night.The residents remained stranded for several hours when the security forces sealed off the area on Saturday morning. Women and children were crying amid intense firing and explosions in Pawaki, sited around one kilometre west of the airbase.
The owner of the under-construction house in Pawaki and his nephew told reporters that labourers arriving for work saw the heavily armed militants hiding in the house at around 7am in the morning. They said the militants told the labourers to arrange shawls and a vehicle for them as they apparently wanted to escape from there. The labourers were reportedly warned not to inform the police about their presence. They complained that the police arrived one-and-a-half hours after the militants were first found out hiding in the house.
An official said the operation started at around 9am and continued till 2pm when police commandos entered the house by ramming an armoured personnel carrier (APC) into the main gate of the building.
As the cops entered the house, two militants wearing suicide jackets blew themselves up while another three were shot dead. The area was later cleared. Several live bombs and hand-grenades recovered from the area were later defused.
The in-charge of the bomb disposal unit, Shafqat Malik, said they had recovered six suicide jackets that were defused. He said the unit also defused a number of live hand-grenades, improvised explosive devices, rockets and other ammunition recovered from the spot.
The police contingents, however, continued patrolling the streets after the operation and an APC was also deployed in the village to deal with any emergency situation.
In the biggest attack so far on the Peshawar Airport by the militants, five attackers were killed during an exchange of fire with security forces on Saturday night while the other five managed to escape.
Officials said that 10 militants armed with suicide jackets, two explosive-laden vehicles, hand-grenades, rocket launchers and automatic weapons stormed the airbase at around 8:15pm and tried to enter the airport building on Saturday night.
A source said the militants rammed two explosive-laden vehicles into the boundary wall of the airbase, one of which exploded with a huge blast while the other did not explode. The blast damaged the boundary wall and destroyed a nearby house.
“The airbase and airport were attacked from the Pawaki and Abdarra side at three different places. On two sides, the militants rammed explosive-filled cars, one of which did not go off while at the third place they were planting an anti-tank mine when security personnel got alerted and opened fire,” an official said.
District Coordination Officer (DCO) Javed Marwat on Saturday confirmed the death of five people and injuries to 46 others on Saturday night. As the operation continued, all the flights coming to the Bacha Khan International Airport were diverted to Islamabad.
The airport was opened for flights on Sunday afternoon when the first flight of the Pakistan International Airlines took off for Karachi. A source said 22 flights were suspended since the Saturday attack.
The Inter-Services Public Relations said all the PAF installations and assets and the Bacha Khan International Airport remained safe in the attack.
APP adds: Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt visited the Peshawar airbase that was attacked by terrorists on Saturday night, according to a PAF press release.
Air Vice Marshal Muhammad Arif, Air Officer Commanding, Northern Air Command, and Air Commodore Khawar Hussain, Base Commander, Peshawar, briefed the air chief about the salient features of the anti-terrorist operation conducted by security forces.
Synergetic effects achieved through a joint operation by the PAF, Pak Army and civil police were also highlighted.
The air chief, while interacting with officers and security personnel, who jointly conducted the operation, commended their courage, valour and spirit to defend the vital national assets.
The air chief also lauded the timely and efficient response of commanders and troops of the PAF base that successfully thwarted a major terrorist attack. He especially appreciated the high motivation level of deployed PAF and Pak Army security forces and their resolve to defend the national assets at any cost.
Air Marshal Muhammad Hasan, Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Administration), accompanied the air chief during the visit.Meanwhile, a spokesman of the PAF said that the Peshawar airbase, which was attacked by terrorists on Saturday night, was in total control and normal operations had resumed.