At least 29 people, including an army captain, were killed as militants attacked a heavily-guarded Pakistan Air Force base in Badhaber area on the outskirts of Peshawar early Friday morning, senior security officials said.
Confirming the attack, ISPR said 13 militants had been killed so far and a clearance operation was underway.
Of the 29 dead, 16 PAF soldiers were killed in a mosque as they offered morning prayers. Seven other PAF soldiers were killed in a barrack near the mosque. “A captain died leading the counter-attack against raiders and two soldiers were also killed,” DG ISPR said.
Security officials said the attackers split into three groups after entering the camp, with two moving to a residential area.
The third group approached the mosque and sprayed worshippers with bullets as they prayed, killing at least 16 of them. It was not clear how many were civilians and how many were military personnel.
It was unclear if the 16 killed in the mosque at the Badaber air base were civilians or military, he added. “Terrorists entered camp at two points. Encounter began immediately,” Bajwa tweeted. The attackers “were contained within a close area. Meanwhile a group rushed to mosque, martyred 16 offering prayers.”
“Captain Asfandyar embraced shahadat while fighting valiantly and leading his troops from the front,” Bajwa said.
Following the attack, Army chief General Raheel Sharif reached Peshawar. Further, Air Chief Sohail Aman also left for the city, a PAF spokesperson said.
“Army chief visited CMH, met injured army and PAF personnel,” Bajwa said, adding the chief of air staff accompanied him. “Injured in high morale and spirits,” he added.
Army chief and air chief visited the Badaber base. “Met PAF, army and police troops who defeated the attackers and killed all terrorists,” DG ISPR added.
PM Nawaz and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also visited Peshawar and attended funeral prayers of the deceased.
Further, PM Nawaz met the father of Captain Asfandyar at Headquarters 11 Corps in Peshawar. The premier condoled with his father and paid tributes to the captain for showing courage and bravery in fight against terrorists.
The attack on the Badaber base, 10 kilometres south of Peshawar, triggered fierce gunbattles between insurgents and the military in which at least 10 soldiers were wounded. Further, security officials told The Express Tribune, “Two security force personnel belonging to the PAF and FC have been killed in the attack.”
Bajwa said operations were continuing to flush out any remaining gunmen and hailed the defenders’ reaction to the attack. He said Peshawar’s Brigade Commander led the operation along with specialist “quick response” forces, army commandos and air force personnel.
Rescue 1122 officials said at least 22 people, including 10 soldiers, were also injured during the attack.
“As per initial information, seven to 10 terrorists tried to break deep in the base” but troops managed to contain them, military spokesperson Major General Asim Bajwa said in a tweet. He said that operations were still ongoing.
“Clearance operation is in progress. Major Haseeb of QRF injured, received a bullet in his thigh and has been taken to CMH,” Bajwa added.
“Terrorists attacked a guard room early morning. Quick reaction force reached, surrounded, isolated them. Exchange of fire continues,” he further said.
“Terrorists came in constabulary uniform,” DG ISPR added.
“Three helicopters participated in clearance operation and a helicopter made an emergency landing due a technical fault,” Bajwa further said.
“Entire response mechanism reacted quickly. Effectively surrounded, confined terrorists in small area. Three terrorists killed so far,” DG ISPR said.
Following the attack, Army chief General Raheel Sharif left for Peshawar.
A senior PAF official said that the area attacked was an operational radar station at the base. “The attackers first went to the guard room. The quick response force had condoned the area while the situation remained unclear,” he said. However, additional security officials had been called in along with police officials.
“There are no air assets including combat aircraft deployed at the base,” he said, requesting anonymity.
“Security forces have entered the base and are searching for attackers,” an official said, while speaking to The Express Tribune.
In an email to the media, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Khorasani group claimed responsibility for the attack. “We sent 14 men to attack the base and eight of them entered the base from one side and six from the other side,” the spokesperson said.
“The attack was planned by Qari Saifullah group and a threat alert had been issued a week ago,” a senior security official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity.
“It was a result of security measures that a major catastrophe was restricted to minimum,” he added.
The security official said initial investigations showed the attackers had travelled in a vehicle from Bara Tehsil, Khyber Agency to Ghundi area of Jamrud Tehsil. “A search operation had been launched in Jamrud since last night.”
“All terrorists killed inside the base were suicide bombers,” he added.
A member of FC’s Quick Response Force team, Rafiullah, while speaking to The Express Tribune said, “One of the attackers was a trained sharp shooter armed with a sniper gun.” Rafiullah sustained bullet wounds during the attack. “I saw four militants and managed to injure two.”
According to residents, at least a dozen small and large explosions were heard from inside the base. “We have been hearing firing for the past one hour and nothing is clear what is going on,” a local resident, Mukamal Shah, said.
Television pictures showed helicopters hovering above the base while police and ambulances gathered outside.
“All the terrorists were wearing explosives-laden jackets and were armed with hand-propelled grenades, mortars, AK-47 rifles,” the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
Military officials were searching villages near the base, which is about 10 km south of Peshawar, he added.
The area of Badhaber is located close to the the semi autonomous Frontier Region (FR) Peshawar and Kohat. Both FRs have been a point of contention as they are buffer zones between the tribal and settled area.
President, PM condemn attack
Condemning the attack, President Mamnoon Hussain said the nation is committed to eliminating terrorism from the country.
“Terrorists cannot undermine our resolve by carrying out coward acts of terrorism,” the president said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated the resolve to continue with full zeal the mission of eliminating terrorism for which the nation has rendered so many sacrifices. “Terrorists will be rooted out from the country,” PM Nawaz said following the attack which took place early Friday morning.
PM Nawaz cancelled his scheduled visit to Lowari Tunnel in the wake of the terrorist attack on PAF airbase in Peshawar.
PM Nawaz will reach Peshawar to attend the funeral prayers of the deceased and will also inquire about the health of the injured patients at Combined Military Hospital.
Eariler, the prime minister directed Defence Minister Khawaja Asif to meet the injured who are undergoing medical treatment at hospitals in Peshawar.
“Nation will always remember the martyrdom of Captain Asfandyar,” PM Nawaz said. Further, the prime minister sympathised with the bereaved families, reiterating his resolve to eliminate terrorism for which he said the nation has rendered countless sacrifices.
K-P Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser also condemned the ‘cowardly attack.’ “We will continue to fight against militants until peace is restored,” the provincial assembly speaker said, while visiting the injured at Lady Reading Hospital.
“The sacrifices of the nation will not go in vain and war against militancy will continue until the last militant is eliminated,” Qaiser added.
“We were offering prayers at a mosque when we heard firing in the distance,” Muhammad Rizwan and Ikram Rizwan both employees at the airbase in Badhaber told The Express Tribune.
“We were waiting for the imam to begin prayers one of the attackers barged into the mosque and started firing indiscriminately,” Muhammad Rizwan added.
Ikram recalled there was a lull in firing and the attacker then lobbed a hand grenade. “When one of the attackers left, people rushed towards the injured but then another attacker entered the mosque and repeated the same.”
“We are very lucky we survived,” they added.
Sabitullah Khan, a labourer who lives nearby, said a wall of his house collapsed under the force of grenade blasts during the attack.
“It was horrifying to hear the blasts and intense firing,” he said.
Kifayatullah, who runs a grocery store near the camp, told AFP he was praying at a mosque outside the compound when the attack began with “a grenade explosion and intense gunfire”.
“It was next to impossible to come out of the mosque. We jumped from the window of the mosque and escaped,” he said.
Names of victims at Lady Reading Hospital can be viewed here:
Nisar briefs PM on attack
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar briefed the premier on the attack. “The quick response force foiled attempt of 14 terrorists who want to destroy main operatives of airbase,” officials quoted Nisar as telling the premier.
“All attackers gunned down. Militants’ attempt to attack the base foiled by forces,” Nisar was further quoted as saying.
Nisar commended security forces on foiling the terrorist attack. The success is manifestation of professionalism and preparedness of our security forces to deal with militants, he said. “The cowardly attack reflects defeated mindset of the militants,” he added.
Further, Nisar said the fight against war on terror will continue till its logical conclusion.
This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.