33 killed in Taliban attack on Pakistan air base (Fourth Lead)

Peshawar, Sep 18 (IANS) At least 33 people including 13 terrorists were killed on Friday after heavily armed Taliban guerrillas stormed a Pakistan Air Force base here and attacked a mosque inside it.

The audacious attack took place less than a year after over 150 people, mostly children, were killed at an army run public school in this capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

According to the director general of the Army’s Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asim Bajwa, the terrorists dressed in police uniforms, wearing explosives-laden jackets and armed with hand-propelled grenades, mortars, and AK-47 rifles entered the Badaber base from two points and then quickly split into sub-groups.

The air base — which is essentially a residential complex rather than an operational one — is located on the southern-most tip of Peshawar’s administrative limits.

It is surrounded by tribal territory, which has been the hub of criminal and militant activity until recently.

The attack comes amid claims of success by the military in its 15-month operation in the tribal region, and might well be an attempt by militants to show they can still hit hard targets.

It also exposes holes in Pakistan’s pre-emptive intelligence gathering mechanisms, mainly due to lack of co-ordination and information sharing among various security agencies.

Gen. Bajwa said 16 people offering prayers at a mosque inside the air base, 10 km south of Peshawar, were shot dead.

It was not immediately known whether those who were killed were all air force personnel.

Bajwa tweeted that 13 terrorists were killed. The Pakistan Army too suffered casualties. A captain, Asfandyar, was among those killed.

At least 25 people, including eight soldiers and two army officers, have so far been injured as army commandos, and personnel of the Pakistan Air Force and Quick Reaction Force carried out a counter-attack.

Bajwa said operations were under way to flush out any remaining gunmen in the air force camp.

A posse of security personnel quickly reached the spot, triggering a heavy exchange of fire between militants and security forces. Residents said they heard explosions and gunfire soon after the terror attack was mounted.

Meanwhile, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani in an e-mailed statement claimed responsibility and said a “suicidal unit” had carried out the attack.

On August 16, 2012, militants attacked the Minhas base of the Pakistan Air Force at Kamra. But recently there has been a lull in the violence. The last deadly attack in the city came in February when three Taliban militants stormed a Shia mosque, killing 21 people.

Army chief General Raheel Sharif arrived in Peshawar hours after the attack.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, saying: “Terrorists will be rooted out from the country.”

The premier said he was being updated on the ongoing operation against terrorists. He said the armed forces of the county have the full support of the entire nation.

Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Hidayatur Rehman conducted aerial surveillance of the base from a helicopter.

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