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Militants in airport attack die in village gun battle

Five Taliban fighters were killed in a battle with security forces yesterday after they fled to a village in north-western Pakistan near an international airport they helped attack the night before, officials said.

The militants were hiding in an unfinished house in the village, located about two miles from the airport in Peshawar, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister in surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Three of the militants were shot by security forces when they tried to escape, said Mr Hussain. Both he and the military said the two other militants detonated their suicide vests when security forces stormed the building.

Taliban militants began their attack on the airport on Saturday night by firing rockets at the wall that surrounds the installation and then detonating two car bombs to try to break through, said the air force, which jointly uses the airport with civilian authorities.

The militants, some of whom were wearing suicide vests, were also armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, automatic weapons and bags of explosives.

Four civilians were killed during the attack and over 40 wounded, including women and children, said local hospital official Umar Ayub. Two of the wounded are in critical condition, he said.

The civilians who were killed and wounded were from neighbourhoods located next to the airport. It is unclear if the casualties were caused by the rockets and bombs used by the militants, or if the civilians were caught in the crossfire when security forces responded to the attack.

Five militants were killed during the attack, and three suicide vests were found near the wreckage of one of the car bombs, said the air force. The militants were unable to enter the airport. No air force equipment was damaged and no personnel were injured, the service said.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack by telephone to the Associated Press. He said the attack was carried out by 10 militants, some of whom were killed. Authorities knew that some of the militants escaped, and police intelligence traced them to Pawaka village, said Mr Hussain. But action was not taken immediately because of the darkness, he said.

Labourers who were working on the house where the militants holed up informed police when they showed up for work yesterday morning and found armed men there, said Mr Hussain. Witness statements suggest that four of the militants were foreigners, possibly Uzbeks or Chechens, he said.

The militants asked local residents for shawls to disguise themselves and a car to help them escape, an eyewitness told local Geo TV. He did not provide his name.

Peshawar is on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal region, the main sanctuary for al Qaida and Taliban militants in the country. The city has frequently been attacked in the past few years, but Saturday was the first strike against the airport. The airport was closed after the attack but reopened yesterday, said Mr Hussain.

The Pakistani Taliban have attacked other major military bases in the country in recent years, including Kamra air base near the capital, Islamabad, in August and Mehran naval air base in the southern city of Karachi last year.

 

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