Sporadic bursts of intense firing continued to echo out of the country’s largest naval airbase, PNS Mehran, till Monday morning. The terrorists were surrounded and confined in one building and the security forces were trying to capture the militants alive.
But none of the “six” were.
Security forces recaptured PNS Mehran on Monday after a 17-hour operation against militants who had stormed the installation in a brazen attack late Sunday night.
According to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, just six militants were involved in the attack on the base in Karachi. By the end of it, they had managed to destroy two Navy P-3C aircraft before laying siege to a building in one of the most-heavily guarded bases in the country.
He said that two terrorists were gunned down during exchange of fire while one blew himself up to avoid arrest, taking down the building, and the fourth accomplice with him.
Two terrorists are believed to have escaped.
In all, eight navy personnel and two Rangers personnel embraced martyrdom in the assault while at least 20 more, 18 navy and two Rangers’ personnel, were wounded. The injured were moved to naval hospitals for treatment.
After it was over, personnel of the paramilitary forces emerged from the base deployed along the boundary walls of the base.
The interior minister said that 17 foreigners – 11 Chinese and six Americans – were inside the base at the time of the assault – but all had been evacuated safely. The Americans were contractors working for SAIC and Lockheed Martin doing maintenance on the aircraft.
What went on inside
“When they fired the first rockets, they were intercepted,” said Pakistan’s navy chief Admiral Noman Bashir. “Then they could not launch another attack on other aircraft and they tried to hide.” He said it took three to four hours to draw out a plan to contain the militants.
Following the attack, naval commandos immediately reached the site, cordoned off the hanger area and managed to salvage other aircraft and assets inside the compound.
Reports say that, in addition to damaging two aircraft, the terrorists also hit various other sensitive depots in the fourth attack on the Pakistan Navy within a month.
A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the attack, said that the team of terrorists they sent had enough supplies to survive a three-day siege.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that security forces launched a coordinated operation to regain control of the navy base.
“We wanted to bring all the logistics under one command against the enemy,” said Malik while talking to the media after a survey of the PNS Mehran base at the Chief Minister House in Karachi, adding that navy forces were assisted by commandos, firemen, Rangers and police.
The interior minister mentioned that the terrorist’s suicide jacket was still operational and there were several undetonated grenades on the site as well, adding that there might be explosives in the debris of the building which collapsed.
Nearly 1,500 security personnel, including Special Services Group (SSG) commandos participated in the operation. The naval and army commandos engaged the terrorists while Rangers were deployed on the outer circle of the operation to block any escape routes.
Malik said that among the six terrorists present at the site, one suicide bomber’s head had been recovered, while four bodies were also found. He added, however, that two individuals were seen running off the base.
The terrorists had been using heavy weaponry, said Malik, “the kind no common man can afford to buy”.
He said the terrorists had to be receiving support and equipment from somewhere.
Malik said the terrorists were wearing “western clothes, had small beards and three of them had sharp features”.
He said two of the attackers look to be around 22 years of age and one of the suicide bombers was around 25 years of age. He said they were dressed in black clothes “like they do in movies”.
‘They were dressed like Star Wars characters,’ said Malik.
The post-mortem of the all the terrorists killed during the operation has been carried out. Their bodies, under tight security, were taken to Civil Hospital Karachi on Monday night where doctors conducted all legal formalities.
“We have received four bodies,” a well-placed source at the hospital told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity. “The post-mortems have been conducted.” He said that two bodies were mutilated while two had multiple bullet wounds – appearing to have been shot with sub-machine guns.
“I want to pay special tribute to martyred Lieutenant Yasir, who gave up his life and saved valuable lives and assets,” Malik added.
He also acknowledged the services of the firemen and other security personnel who lost their lives.
“We are fighting a war against a cunning enemy,” said Malik, urging people to condemn those trying to destabilise Pakistan.
Joint investigation team formed
Malik said an investigation team led by the Pakistan Navy has been formed and will include members from the FIA, police, Rangers and other intelligence units.
Malik said that team has been asked to file a report as soon as possible. He added that terrorists were planning attacks on sensitive installations and army institutions, and that names of several officials who they were planning on attacking had come forward.
The interior minister said there was a chance the terrorists might carry out another operation.
Meanwhile, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir said on Monday that installations of Pakistan Navy were being relocated to a safer place away from residential areas.
“We are trying to relocate the naval base and other vital installations away from residential areas,” he told a news conference in Karachi.
He said the effective security of naval installations is becoming difficult due to crowded residential areas around the Mehran base.
“When these installations were planned and built near Karsaz, they were away from the city, but with the fast growth of residential areas around the base, it has become in the centre.”
Additional input from agencies
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2011.