At least four people were killed when Taliban militants attacked and tried to storm an international airport in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Saturday, an Al Arabiya reporter said, quoting a military spokesman.
The unprecedented attack on the airport in the northwestern city of Peshawar, a commercial hub and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base, sparked a prolonged volley of gunfire as army officials launched a search operation, witnesses told AFP.
“A total of eight people -- four terrorists and four civilians -- were killed,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for provincial Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of which Peshawar is the capital.
The Pakistani Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened to carry more such attacks in the near future.
“We carried out this suicide attack, we will carry more such attacks on this airport,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“Our target was jet fighter plans and gunship helicopters and soon we will target them again,” he said.
There was some confusion over the number of attackers as the Pakistan military, which said a search and clearance operation was still continuing, described the number as five while the PAF and other officials put the number at four.
“Bodies of five terrorists are lying outside the airport wall and will be cleared with the help of bomb disposal squad,” said the military in a statement.
Pakistani television footage showed a vehicle with a smashed windscreen, another damaged car, bushes on fire and what appeared to be a large breach in a wall.
The PAF said that four terrorists have been killed and one injured. “Four suicide jackets have been defused... Joint Operation consisting of all security agencies is in progress to clear the area,” it said in a written statement.
Peshawar is the main gateway to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt on the Afghan border, where the Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked groups have strongholds.
“Four attackers were involved. One of the attackers was wearing a suicide vest and was driving a car. He rammed his car in the outer wall of the airport (compound),” said information minister Hussain.
“Another attacker wearing a suicide vest blew himself up prematurely, killing three of them (the attackers),” he added.
“Rocket launchers were also fired. The attackers failed to reach the target. The dead bodies of the four terrorists are in police custody. Both Peshawar airport and the attached air base are safe,” he said.
Administrative official Javed Khan Marwat confirmed that rockets were used in the attack.
“Two of them landed inside the airport. A third hit the outer wall of the airport and a nearby vehicle, which killed two people inside the vehicle. Two others landed on a residential area, and dozens of people were wounded,” he said.
He told state television PTV that “three terrorists and one suicide bomber” were killed in the assault, without providing further details.
Farhad Khan, a spokesman for Khyber Teaching Hospital near the airport, said four people died and that 50 wounded people had been brought in after the attack.
Doctor Umar Ayub confirmed the death toll.
Pervez George, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, confirmed that the airport had been closed, but said there had been no damage to the airport building or terminals.
“All Pakistani airports at this time are on red alert,” he told Pakistani television.
“All flights to Peshawar have been diverted to Islamabad and (the eastern city of) Lahore,” he added.
Pakistani Islamist militants have carried out previous attacks on military air bases in the nuclear-armed country.
In August, 11 people were killed when heavily armed militants dressed in fatigues and wearing suicide vests stormed an air force base in the northwestern town of Kamra.
In May 2011, it took 17 hours to quell an attack on an air base in Karachi claimed by the Taliban, piling embarrassment on the armed forces just three weeks after US troops killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Pakistan says more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States and that its forces have for years been fighting homegrown militants in the northwest.