PESHAWAR: Forty-two people, including 23 air force personnel, were killed today when heavily-armed Taliban militants donning military uniforms stormed a Pakistan Air Force base and a mosque inside the compound here and resorted to firing, in one of the brazen attacks on a defence facility.
A group of 13 militants wearing explosives-laden jackets and armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and automatic rifles attacked a guard post as they tried to fight their way into the Badaber air base, six kilometres outside Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
The militants shot dead 16 air force men who were offering morning prayers at the mosque inside the compound, military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa told reporters.
Seven others were killed in the ablution area of the mosque, he said.
Among 29 people killed by the militants, 23 were from Pakistan air force and three from army - a captain and two soldiers, Bajwa said. Three civilians were also killed during the assault that began at 5 AM and lasted for four hours.
All 13 terrorists were killed by security forces, he said, adding that they were dressed in constabulary uniforms.
At least 29 people, including eight soldiers and two senior army officers, were injured in the attack.
The injured have been shifted to a military hospital in Peshawar and two have been taken to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). An emergency has been declared in both hospitals.
Bajwa said the attack was planned, controlled and perpetrated from Afghanistan and further investigation to ascertain the identity of the terrorists and how they succeeded to infiltrate the air force camp is underway.
The security forces had tip-off about the attacks as they had intercepted many conversations of the terrorists that led to the conclusion that the attack was planned, launched and controlled from within Afghanistan.
Bajwa said the militants entered the base at two points, splitting into sub-groups, sparking a fierce gunbattle with security forces.
They immediately fired launchers and hurled hand grenades on the entrance and succeed to penetrate in the camp, he said.
However, integrated response by Defence Service Group, SSG Commandos and police force contained and killed all the terrorists within 50-meter of space near the gates within the camp, he added.
There were at least 2,000 people in the residential area when the attack was carried out, and the toll could have been much higher if the terrorists reached there.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. "Our suicidal unit carried out the attack," TTP spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in an email statement.
Khurasani claimed that 50 security personnel were killed by the militants but it was not confirmed.
Corps Commander Lt Gen Hidayatur Rehman conducted aerial surveillance of the base from a helicopter. Around 15 people were arrested during a search operation.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief General Raheel Sharif rushed to Peshawar and visited the wounded in hospital.
"Terrorists will be rooted out from the country," Prime Minister Sharif said.
The Badaber air base is not functional and is mostly used as a residential place for the employees and officers of the air force.
Also today, police in Karachi claimed to have foiled a terrorist attack being planned on the Kamra airbase in Punjab province after the arrest of a suicide bomber.
Police said they had arrested a high-profile militant of the largely unknown Tehreek-e-Imarat Islamia Afghanistan.
Peshawar has frequently been targeted by militants. Last December more than 150 people, mostly children, were killed by Taliban gunmen during an attack on an army-run school.
Last month, heavily-armed militants stormed an aerodrome in troubled Balochistan province, destroying its radar system and killing two engineers.
Militants had also attacked the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi in June last year in which 36 people were killed, including 10 militants.
Today's attack occurred at a site which is surrounded by tribal areas, the scene of a major military offensive against Taliban and other militants over the past year.
The attack could possibly be a fallout of Operation 'Zarb-e-Azb' launched by the army in June 2014 in a bid to wipe out militant bases to end the bloody decade-long Islamist insurgency that has cost Pakistan thousands of lives.
Waziristan has been cleared of the terrorists and achievements have been made in Khyber-One and Khyber two operations, Bajwa added.