Gunmen Storm Airport in Pakistan, Killing 9 People

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) -

Gunmen disguised as police guards stormed an airport terminal used for VIPs and cargo in Pakistan’s largest city Sunday night, killing at least nine people as explosions echoed into the night, officials said.

Meanwhile, suicide bombers in southwestern Pakistan killed 23 Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran in a separate incident, underscoring how fragile security is Pakistan.

The airport attack still was ongoing early Monday in Karachi, a sprawling port city on the southern coast of Pakistan, although officials said all the passengers had been evacuated. Heavy gunfire and at least two large explosions could be heard coming from the terminal at Jinnah International Airport as authorities scrambled to secure the area.

Dr. Seemi Jamali from Jinnah Hospital in Karachi said nine bodies had been brought so far to the hospital from the fighting. She said seven were from the Airport Security Force personnel, one was an employee of the Civil Aviation Authority and another was from the state-run Pakistan International Airlines.

Gunmen attacked the terminal late Sunday, said Shaukat Jamal, a spokesman for the Airport Security Force, an arm of the country’s police. A major fire rose from the airport, with the silhouette of jets seen.

The attack happened at a terminal not generally used for commercial flights but for special VIP flights and for cargo.

An official who spoke to journalists near the airport said at least some of the terrorists were wearing Airport Security Force uniforms and all were strapped with explosives. He said one of them tried to capture a vehicle used by the Civil Aviation Authority and when a guard shot at him, the explosives strapped to his body went off. The official said another attacker also blew up after being shot at by security forces.

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city and has been the site of frequent attacks in the past. It is the country’s economic heart and any terrorist activity targeting the airport likely would strike a heavy blow at foreign investment in the country.

In May 2011, militants waged an 18-hour siege at a naval base in Karachi, killing 10 people in an assault that deeply embarrassed its armed forces.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday night’s attack. Pakistan’s government has been trying to negotiate a peace deal with local Taliban fighters and other groups mostly based in the northwest who have been waging war against the government. But the talks have had little success, raising fears of a backlash of attacks across the country.