Taliban say attack was revenge for bin Laden
KARACHI, Pakistan – Islamist militants stormed a naval base in the Pakistani city of Karachi late Sunday, destroying two U.S.-supplied surveillance aircraft, firing rockets and battling commandos sent to subdue them in one of the most brazen attacks in years, officials said.
At least four navy personnel and a paramilitary Ranger were killed and 11 security forces were wounded in fighting at the Naval Station Mehran that was still ongoing this morning, navy spokesman Irfan ul Haq said.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was part of their revenge for the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
It was unclear how many militants were killed or wounded. But between 10 and 15 attackers entered the high-security facility before splitting into smaller groups, setting off explosions and hiding in the sprawling facility, Haq said.
The militants attacked the base from three sides and had control of one building as of this morning, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said. Navy helicopters were flying over the base in search of the attackers.
“Because of the presence of several assets on the base, the operation is being carried out in a cautious, smart way,” Haq said, referring to military aircraft. “That’s why it’s taking so long.”
In claiming responsibility, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said the attack was part of their planned response to the death of the al-Qaida chief, and that Pakistan is the top target.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack, saying such a “cowardly act of terror could not deter the commitment of the government and people of Pakistan to fight terrorism.”
The raid began with at least three loud explosions, which were heard by people who live around the naval air station. It was unclear what caused the explosions, but they set off raging fires that could be seen from far in the distance.
An Associated Press reporting team outside the base heard at least six other explosions and sporadic gunfire.
Authorities sent in several dozen navy and police commandos to battle the attackers, who responded with gunfire and grenades, said Salman Ali, another navy spokesman. At least two P-3C Orions, maritime surveillance aircraft given to Pakistan by the U.S., were destroyed, he said.
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