Islamic militants launched a ferocious assault on Pakistan’s largest international airport in the early hours of this morning.

Dressed as police guards, they stormed past checkpoints surrounding the airport and fought with security staff using grenades, automatic weapons and rocket launchers.

It is now believed that that 28 people lost their lives in the attack, including 12 militants.

Large plumes of smoke were seen rising from the runway area (pictured, above) as the authorities evacuated passengers from commercial jetliners awaiting take-off. The main passenger terminal was shut and the flight schedule in and out of Karachi has been suspended.

The attack will come as a major embarrassment to the government – a unwanted illustration of its inability to defend key installations.

It also deals a serious blow to recent attempts by officials to engage the militants in talks. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power last year promising to find a negotiated solution with the Taliban.

However, the peace process has disintegrated in recent weeks with the Pakistan military launching a series of airstrikes against targets in the north-west.

The Taliban itself has reportedly split, in part over disagreements about whether to negotiate or not.

09 karachi blog w Karachi airport attack: Pakistans embarrassment

In comments to Channel 4 News and others, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility for the attack on Jinnah International Airport and offered up a series of justifications.

He told our team, “this attack was the revenge of martyrdom our leader Shaheed Hakimullah Mehsud and brutal killings of (our) prisoners in jails.” Mehsud was killed in a drone strike earlier this year and earned a reputation as a fierce and powerful commander.

In a message to other media organisations Shahid said the assault served as a reminder that, “we are still able to react to the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages.”

On Facebook, the media section of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which calls itself ‘Umar Media’, had this to say: “The biggest reason for attacking Karachi airport is because it serves as the biggest air logistics centre supplying goods for the crusaders’ war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Government and military officials claimed that several of the militants killed in the fighting were Chechen or Uzbek.

A spokesman for the prime minister said the insurgents were carrying water, biscuits and dried chick peas and seemed to be, “preparing for a long siege”.

Foreign militants are often blamed by the authorities for staging attacks alongside the Taliban in various parts of Pakistan.

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