KARACHI [AFP] — Militants stormed one of Pakistan's main military bases in the country's largest city late Sunday, triggering explosions and gunbattles three weeks after the US killing of Osama bin Laden.
At least 10 people were wounded as blasts and gunshots rang out at the sprawling base used by the Air Force and Navy in the centre of Karachi, where the local government confirmed that the base was under "terrorist attack".
|Militants stormed one of Pakistan's biggest military bases in the country's largest city late May 22, triggering explosions and gunbattles three weeks after the US killing of Osama bin Laden.|
An AFP reporter saw scores of soldiers and navy commando reinforcements entering the base, where flames and smoke could be seen rising into the night sky. An AFP photographer heard seven blasts and periodic bursts of gunfire.
|Flames and smokes erupt from a Pakistan's military air base following an attack by militants in Karachi on May 22, 2011|
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Pakistan's military has long been on the frontline of gun, suicide and bomb attacks blamed on the country's main Taliban faction and other Al-Qaeda-linked militant groups.
The Taliban have recently repeatedly threatened Western and Pakistani government targets to avenge the killing of bin Laden by US Navy SEALs in the garrison city of Abbottabad near the capital Islamabad on May 2.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned Sunday's attack, and ordered his interior minister to Karachi and to "coordinate the security efforts being taken by the civil and military officials," his office said in a statement.
Commander Salman Ali, spokesman for the Pakistan Navy, told AFP that members of the security forces were fighting against gunmen.
"An exchange of fire with terrorists is continuing. Their firing is fading away and we have launched a search operation," he said.
"It's a terrorist attack. More than 10 terrorists are inside. They have attacked a navy air station located in a Pakistan Air Force base," said home ministry official Sharfuddin Memon from the southern province Sindh.
"One of the four aircraft inside the premises has been damaged," he said, adding that at least 10 people had been wounded.
"I have no information whether they are the attackers or Navy personnel."
In October 2009, Taliban militants beseiged the army headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi for two days, killing 22 people and raising serious questions over why it took the military so long to put down the assault.
Karachi, Pakistan's financial capital whose sea port is used by NATO to ship supplies to the estimated 130,000 US-led foreign troops fighting the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, has recently seen a spike in attacks on the military.
On April 28, four naval personnel and a passing motorcyclist were killed in a bombing, two days after four others were killed in navy bus bombings.
Last week, a Saudi diplomat was killed in a hail of bullets on his way to work at his country's consulate in the city, just days after attackers threw grenades at the diplomatic mission.
Pakistan's seemingly powerful security establishment was left humiliated by the discovery and killing of the Al-Qaeda terror chief in a unilateral American Navy SEAL raid that has rocked relations with wary ally Washington.
In an interview with the BBC broadcast on Sunday, US President Barack Obama said he stood ready to order a similar mission to that which killed bin Laden if another high-value target was discovered in Pakistan, or any other country.
"We are very respectful of the sovereignty of Pakistan, but we cannot allow someone who is actively planning to kill our people or our allies' people, we can't allow those kinds of active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action," he added.
Earlier on Sunday, thousands demonstrated in Karachi to demand an immediate end to US missile strikes in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt on the Afghan border and urge the blocking of NATO supplies passing through the country.
Activists from the Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) led by former cricket hero Imran Khan held a two-day sit-in outside the Arabian Sea port, urging the government to end its cooperation with Washington's "war on terror".