23 May 2011

Pakistani Taliban storm naval base

The Pakistani Taliban claim responsibility for a major assault on the headquarters of the naval air force in Karachi that has so far killed at least thirteen officials and injured 14 others.

The Pakistan navy has declared an operation to regain control of a Pakistani naval base, involving over 130 commandos, has come to an end.

11 navy officers and two paramilitary rangers have been killed and 14 others injured in the attack at the PNS Mehran base in Karachi after 16 hours of intense fighting that began on Sunday night (1730 GMT.)

Around 20 militants from the Pakistani Taliban stormed the heavily guarded building with guns, grenades, and RPGs.

Eight major blasts were heard throughout the night as fighting intensified, and one maritime patrol aircraft was destroyed.

The base is 15 miles (24 km) from the Masroor Air Base, Pakistan’s largest and a possible depot for nuclear weapons.

A senior security official told Reuters the militants had taken over a building in the base. Another official stationed in the base said the militants had not taken any hostages, but added: “There is a chance that some terrorists have suicide belts or jackets.”

A plume of smoke rises from the background as a military official uses a phone at the entrance to the Mehran base (Reuters)

The Pakistan Taliban said the attack was to avenge the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s killing on May 2.

“It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Ehsan also warned that the team sent into the base was preparing for a siege lasting several days.

“They have enough ammunition and food and they can fight and survive for three days,” Ehsan said.

Reports say that up to 22 militants may have been killed by Pakistani troops. The remainder are holed up in a building on the base exchanging fire with commandos

The base is 15 miles (24 km) from the Masroor Air Base, Pakistan’s largest and a possible depot for nuclear weapons.

Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, said the “terrorists” sneaked into the base from three points adjacent to residential areas in the city of 16 million people, whose port is a vital hub for NATO supplies bound for Afghanistan.

“A building in the premises is still under their occupation from where they are exchanging fire with our soldiers,” Malik said on Monday.

“It is not just an attack on navy establishment, it is an attack on Pakistan,” Malik added

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani also condemned the attack.

“Such a cowardly act of terror could not deter the commitment of the government and people of Pakistan to fight terrorism,” Gilani said in statement.

Mullah Omar

Meanwhile in a separate incident, the Taliban in Afghanistan have rejected unsourced media reports that its reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has been killed in Pakistan, saying that he is alive and and in Afghanistan.

Pakistan security officials, US military commanders and government officials in Afghanistan have offered tentative rejection of reports that Omar had been killed while travelling between Quetta and North Waziristan in Pakistan.

“He is in Afghanistan safe and sound,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. “We strongly reject these baseless allegations that Mullah Mohammad Omar has been killed.”

“This is the propaganda by the enemy to weaken the morale of fighters,” Mujahid said.

In Kabul, senior diplomats and U.S. military officials also could not confirm the report and would not comment publicly. Some described the reports as “speculation”.

An intelligence official for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, who asked not to be identified, said the NDS was aware of reports that Mullah Omar had been killed by agents from Pakistan’s ISI while being moved from Quetta to North Waziristan.

NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said the agency’s “intelligence gathering” had seen reports Mullah Omar had been killed on the way to North Waziristan.

“But I cannot officially confirm that he was killed,” Mashal said.