ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR: At least 29 people, including an army captain, were killed as militants attacked a heavily-guarded Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base in Badhaber area on the outskirts of Peshawar early Friday morning.
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.
“Terrorists entered camp at two points. Encounter began immediately,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. “The attackers “were contained within a close area. Captain Asfandyar embraced shahadat while fighting valiantly and leading his troops from the front.”
Following the attack, army chief General Raheel Sharif, and air chief Sohail Aman reached Peshawar.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also visited Peshawar and attended funeral prayers of the deceased.
The premier also met the father of Captain Asfandyar at Headquarters 11 Corps, condoled and paid tributes to the captain for showing courage and bravery in fight against terrorists.
Rescue 1122 officials said at least 22 people, including 10 soldiers, were also injured during the attack.
“Clearance operation is in progress. Major Haseeb of QRF injured, received a bullet in his thigh and has been taken to CMH,” Bajwa added.
TTP claims responsibility
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.
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.
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.
PM Nawaz also 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,” he said.
K-P Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser also condemned the 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.
“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.