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Attack on Pakistan’s main airport leaves 21 dead

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– ‘I saw the terrorists firing’ –

An AFP reporter at the airport witnessed three “huge” blasts, in what intelligence officials at the scene said they believed were suicide bombers detonating their explosives.

Broken glass and spent gun magazines littered the engineering section where the first exchange of gunfire took place as smoke from grenade attacks began to die down.

“I heard fierce firing and then saw the terrorists firing at security forces. I don’t know a lot more than that,” said eyewitness Sarmad Hussain, an employee of national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

“Thank God I am alive, this is very scary,” he told AFP.

Syed Saim Rizvi, who was on board a plane on the runway, tweeted: “Huge blast!!!! I do not know whats going on outside – heavy firing started again – full panic on board!”

The director of the city’s main Jinnah Hospital, Seemi Jamali, said that 11 dead bodies including nine security personnel and two civilians had been brought in, along with the partial remains of two other unidentified bodies.

Another 21 people were wounded, he told AFP.

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A spokesman for PIA, Mashud Tajwar, said that two domestic flights bound for Karachi had been diverted to nearby airports.

There has so far been no claim of responsibility for Sunday night’s incident but similar raids in the past have been claimed by Taliban militants who rose up against the Pakistani state in 2007 in an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.

Taliban gunmen attacked the Mehran naval base in 2011, which is three kilometres from the airport, destroying two US-made Orion aircraft and killing 10 personnel in a 17-hour siege.

Taliban and other militants in uniform carried out a similar raid at Pakistan’s military headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi in 2009, leaving 23 dead including 11 troops and three hostages.

The raid will cast attention on the government’s controversial decision to negotiate with the Taliban instead of using greater force to deal with them.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government began negotiations with the umbrella militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in February, with a ceasefire beginning March 1 but breaking down a month later.

The TTP emerged in response to a raid on a radical mosque in Islamabad, but Islamist violence in the country began to surge in 2004 following the army’s deployment in volatile tribal areas.

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