Pakistan passenger jet hit by gunfire, one killed

2014-06-25 09:03

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Peshwar - Gunmen opened fire on a passenger jet as it landed in Pakistan's troubled northwest, killing a woman passenger and wounding two crew, as the military wages an anti-Taliban offensive.

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight, landing in Peshawar from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, came under fire late Tuesday as it descended with more than 170 passengers on board.

Authorities said the plane landed safely but that a catastrophe was only narrowly avoided as it was still 1 500 metres above the ground when it was hit with eight bullets from the unidentified attackers.

"The shots were fired from outside the airport, one lady passenger and two stewards were wounded, the woman later died in the hospital," airline spokesman Mashud Tajwar told AFP.

Tajwar said the reason for the firing was not yet clear but the airline had not received any threats.

Muhammad Faisal, a senior police official in Peshawar said the forensic report revealed that eight AK-47 bullets were fired on the plane around five kilometres (three miles) from the runway, hitting it in the tail section.

Police have cordoned off an area outside the airport to search for the gunmen and paid tribute to the pilot's cool head.

"Credit goes to the aeroplane pilot that he managed to land safely," senior police official Najeeb Ur Rehman said.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which forced flights at the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar to be suspended briefly.

The incident came two weeks after a bloody raid on the international airport in the southern port city of Karachi that extinguished a largely fruitless peace process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Tuesday also saw the first suicide bombing in North Waziristan since the military launched a major operation against the Taliban and other militants who have strongholds there.

Three people were killed in the attack.

The military said it had killed 47 fighters in the tribal northwest in the latest air strikes carried out as part of its assault which began on June 15.

The armed forces have used jet fighters, tanks and artillery to kill more than 300 people they have described as militants, although the number and identity of the victims are impossible to verify.

The suicide bomber struck in North Waziristan's Spinwam village, detonating a car bomb when he was intercepted on the approach to a checkpoint, officials said, killing two soldiers and a civilian.

The deaths bring to 12 the number of security forces killed in the offensive, dubbed "Zarb-e-Azb" after a sword used in battle by the Prophet Mohammad, since its launch on June 15.

The Ansar-ul-Mujahedin militant group, a Pakistani Taliban faction, claimed responsibility, with spokesman Abu Baseer saying it was the start of a counter-strike against Pakistani troops.

"It is beginning of our offensive and we will launch attacks against government and local tribesmen if they form an anti-Taliban force," Baseer told AFP via telephone from an unknown location.

Earlier in the day, Pakistani jets and helicopters targeted militant hideouts at several locations in North Waziristan and the neighbouring Khyber tribal region, killing 47 militants, a military statement said.

The offensive has claimed the lives of a total 346 militants so far, according to an AFP tally. The military operation has seen North Waziristan hit by more than a week of shelling and air raids, with more than 470 000 people fleeing ahead of an impending ground assault.

Many have headed to the nearby town of Bannu, where police and troops were forced to fire warning shots on Tuesday to quell a protest over food shortages.

The UN said Tuesday that up to half a million people could be displaced by the current military operation and urged the Pakistani government to allow its agencies access to the affected areas.

The assault on the militant bastion of North Waziristan, long urged by Washington, was finally launched after the dramatic attack on Karachi airport which killed dozens of people and marked the end of the ailing peace process.
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