For many, it seemed like the nightmare continued on Tuesday when panic gripped Karachi for the second day after unidentified men resorted to indiscriminate firing near the Airport Security Force (ASF) Camp located near the airport runway.
But later, it was discovered that there was no ‘attack’ on the airport, maintained security officials.
“We did not see who opened fire but we gave them a strong answer,” Abbas, who was deputed for security outside the ASF Camp, told The Express Tribune. “There was no exchange of fire or attack.”
However, according to other witnesses, two masked men – one dressed in khaki shalwar kameez and another in a pant and shirt – came from a nearby slum, Pehlwan Goth, on a motorcycle and fired a few gunshots. Then, fled through the narrow streets towards Bhittaiabad.
As the law-enforcement and security forces were already on alert, they took the firing seriously and immediately cordoned off the nearest slum area where the assailants had reportedly gone into hiding. A helicopter was also used for air surveillance.
Rangers, police and ASF resorted to firing at every suspicious movement to avert any possible untoward incident. The routes leading to the airport were closed for traffic and flight operations suspended, but only for a while. “All the flights were suspended immediately to avoid any untoward incident, however, after getting clearance within 20 minutes, all flights were allowed to move to their destinations,” said Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesperson Abid Qaimkhani.
However, the paramilitary and security forces returned without arresting any of the culprits after two hours. “It was not an attack,” ASF spokesperson clarified. “The firing incident occurred a distance away from the ASF camp. I think, they (militants) won’t have the courage now to attack again as we have already been given them a good example of our strength by killing their all men [on Monday].”
However, the electronic media termed it another attack in the airport premises, claiming that there had been a breach. It was blamed for creating most of the panic. “The media should avoid using the word ‘attack’,” said ASF DG Azam Tiwana in a joint briefing with Karachi police chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo and Rangers sector commander Colonel Javed. “The airport is completely secured and law-enforcement agencies have the capability to respond.”
Meanwhile, investigators probing Monday’s brazen attack on the Karachi airport’s old terminal have included the possibilities of internal ASF involvement and airport staff. Agencies have started reviewing the record of staffers’ cell phones and keeping an eye on their movement, officials told The Express Tribune.
In the majority of the major attacks, including PNS Base Mehran, General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, and PAF Base Minhas, Kamra, investigations showed internal involvement and arrests were made.
After the GHQ attack in October 2009, the army detained Brigadier Ali Khan, an officer who had been serving at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, for his alleged ties to an extremist organisation.
Similarly, in June 2011, defence officials informed a parliamentary committee that insiders were involved in PNS Base Mehran attack in Karachi. Three Pakistan navy officers were court-martialled and sentenced in the case, while three low-ranked PAF officials were formally arrested in connection with the August 16, 2012 attack on Minhas Airbase at Kamra.
Keeping this in mind, the ASF and other agencies have started tracking staffers’ cell phones and movement. “While the inquiry into the incident is in progress, intelligence agencies are keeping a close watch to sniff out the bad eggs,” confirmed an ASF senior intelligence official. “It is not necessary that the militants attacked the airport with internal support but we cannot rule it out just yet.”
On the other hand, police officials also believe that the militants carried out the attack with internal involvement. “They knew the airport very well. They knew about the overall security situation. They were even aware of the easiest ways to access the runway. But the question is how? All of these suggest that they had inside support,” said District Malir SSP Rao Anwar.
He said former ASF personnel and employees of the PIA, CAA and other departments concerned will also be vetted, adding that a case has been registered against militants at the Airport police station.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2014.