Karachi: Fresh gunfire has erupted at a Karachi airport just hours after a ferocious terrorist assault by suspected Islamist militants left at least 23 dead.
Pakistan's security forces have relaunched a military operation that ended the previous six-hour siege.
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Many killed in attack on Pakistan airport
RAW VISION: at least 23 people are dead after heavily armed militants stormed Pakistan's busiest airport in Karachi.
"We have relaunched the operation and called in additional troops," said Sibtain Rizvi, spokesman for the Rangers paramilitary force.
One police officer had been injured, he said.
An Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene said gunshots could be heard inside the airport and that rangers and elite commandos were rushing inside.
The initial assault at the Jinnah International Airport began late on Sunday and carried through into Monday morning, local time. Explosions and gunfire rang out across the airport as police and security forces battled with attackers, and passengers waited anxiously in a nearby terminal and in airplanes stranded on the tarmac. Just before 5am, after five hours of siege, the military reported that the last of 10 attackers had been killed.
Chief Minister of Sindh province Syed Qaim Ali Shah, said that 13 other people had also died, including 10 members of the Airport Security Forces and a flight engineer with Pakistan International Airlines.
"They were well trained," he said of the assailants. "Their plan was very well thought out."
There was no claim of responsibility for the assault, which was the most ambitious of its kind in Pakistan since Islamist militants attacked a navy air base in central Karachi in 2011. Initial suspicions fell on the Pakistani Taliban and related Islamist groups that have become increasingly strong in the past two years in the city, a sprawling megalopolis of 20 million people and a major commercial hub.
Although elite commandos moved quickly to counter the assault, many Pakistanis expressed shock that militants could penetrate such a prominent target so thoroughly and raised questions about why the attack had not been prevented by the military's powerful spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
The attack began late Sunday night, when the gunmen made it past security checkpoints near the airport's old terminal, which is mostly used for cargo or private flights for senior government officials and business leaders. Some news reports said the men wore identification saying they were members of the Airport Security Force.
Hurling grenades and unleashing automatic weapons fire, the attackers at least initially moved toward the nearby web of runways as they fought, according to news and witness reports.
News images showed a major fire blazing in the airport complex that filled the night sky with an orange glow and appeared to be near parked jets. But a senior spokesman for the Pakistani military, Major General Asim Bajwa, denied news media reports that two planes had caught fire. He also denied reports that the gunmen had been trying to hijack an airliner.
All flights to Karachi were diverted to other airports. Television pictures showed ambulances racing from the airport, ferrying casualties to the hospital.
Deadly attack on Pakistan airport
RAW VISION: five people are killed after gunmen storm an airport terminal in Karachi, Pakistan.
Some of the attackers were wearing suicide vests, and at least one blew himself up when police officers approached, senior police officials told reporters at the scene.
Although the fighting took place away from the main terminal that is used by commercial airlines, some passengers were stranded on airplanes that had been about to take off when the assault started. Among them was Farooq Sattar, a senior leader with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement political party, which has dominated Karachi politics for almost three decades. Others posted updates on Twitter and other social media.
A spokeswoman at Jinnah Hospital in Karachi, Seemi Jamali, said that in addition to the dead, at least 16 people had been seriously injured, and all the city's hospitals were on alert.
A senior officer with the Rangers, a paramilitary force that helped secure the airport, told reporters that the attackers had been carrying Indian weapons, in an apparent suggestion of Indian involvement that was greeted with widespread derision on social media.
If past assaults are a guide, the most likely culprits are the Pakistani Taliban or allied sectarian and militant groups that have killed thousands of civilians and security forces in the past seven years.
A tentative peace process with the Taliban, begun by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government in February, has disintegrated in recent weeks. The militant group has split into at least two opposed factions, in part over disagreements about whether to negotiate with the government. The Pakistani army renewed a campaign of airstrikes against the militants in North Waziristan two weeks ago, and factions of the Taliban were believed to be behind a deadly attack on a high-security military complex near Rawalpindi last week.
In a further demonstration of the brittle security situation across Pakistan, at least 23 Shiites were reported killed on Sunday in a coordinated suicide bombing in a remote part of Baluchistan province on the border with Iran. The Associated Press quoted provincial officials as saying the attack had come as the victims were returning from a pilgrimage to Iran.
New York Times, AFP