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Taliban attack Pakistani airport again amid military raids

Remnants of a building damaged Sunday by Taliban mili-tants stood near planes at Jinnah International Airport.

Athar Hussain/Reuters

Remnants of a building damaged Sunday by Taliban mili-tants stood near planes at Jinnah International Airport.

LONDON — Retaliating against a new wave of military airstrikes, Pakistani Taliban gunmen on Tuesday attacked security forces at Karachi’s international airport for the second time in two days, underscoring their capacity to create mayhem in the country’s largest city.

The assault, in which at least two gunmen opened fire on a guard post at the airport perimeter, caused no casualties and ended with the gunmen fleeing into a nearby slum. By contrast, at least 36 people died in the first attack on Sunday, which lasted through the night.

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But the brief shootout did cause Jinnah International Airport, Pakistan’s busiest airfield, to temporarily close for the second time in 48 hours. And coming hours after Pakistani air force jets struck a militant sanctuary in the tribal belt, it compounded the sense that Pakistan’s war against the Taliban was rapidly escalating.

“The military wants to sort the Taliban out as soon as possible,” said Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. “They want to set things right in the tribal areas.”

Fixing the tumultuous tribal belt, however, has at least momentarily become linked to the Taliban’s program of bold attacks in mainstream Pakistan.

The second assault on the Karachi airport started Tuesday when at least two gunmen riding motorcycles opened fire on a security post manned by the Airport Security Force, a paramilitary force that guards the airport and that lost at least 11 members in the Taliban’s previous assault.

The shooting occurred on the perimeter of the force’s training and residential complex, which is beside the airport, barely a mile from the main terminal.

Guards at the checkpoint returned fire and the attackers fled into a nearby slum area, where they were pursued by paramilitary troops who had rushed to the scene of the attack. Several television journalists followed the soldiers into the slum, drawing criticism on social media from Pakistanis who accused them of endangering the operation.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack within hours, calling it retaliation for Pakistani military airstrikes in the northwestern mountains earlier that morning.

“We are back to ASF academy,” said the spokesman, Omar Khorasani, referring to the Airport Security Force, via a Twitter account that is believed to be his own.

With Karachi troubled by a sense of nervous uncertainty since Sunday’s attack, senior security officials tried to play down the episode.

“It was not an attack as such,” said Colonel Tahir Ali. “They came and fired. We cannot take any risk.”

The firefight came on the heels of Sunday’s firefight, when a team of 10 attackers slipped into the airport’s cargo bay and VIP area, where they fought a blazing battle with security forces through the night.

The death toll rose to 36 on Tuesday after the authorities recovered the bodies of seven cargo workers, charred beyond recognition during a fire in a storage unit where they had tried to hide Sunday.

Flights to and from Karachi were suspended for a time after Tuesday’s shootout, but resumed later.

None of the international airlines flying to Karachi have announced any change to their service, but several said they were watching the situation.

Attention is now turning to the military response.

Tuesday’s airstrikes targeted militant compounds in the Tirah Valley, a remote part of the Khyber tribal district, where the Taliban has allied with Mangal Bagh, a local warlord.

The alliance concerns the Pakistani military because of Tirah’s proximity to the historic Khyber Pass, a major border crossing with Afghanistan, and the army has mounted several attacks on Taliban positions in the district so far this year.

A military spokesman said that 25 militants had been killed in the airstrikes, but there was no independent confirmation of the toll.

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