Mass arrests in Pakistan after gunmen shoot plane

2014-06-26 05:15
(File)

(File)

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Peshawar - Pakistani police arrested hundreds of people on Wednesday after gunmen opened fire on a passenger plane during its landing approach, as fighter jets hit militant targets in the latest round of an anti-Taliban offensive.

The attack at Peshawar airport in the country's northwest killed a female passenger and wounded two crew, and will raise further questions about aircraft safety in Pakistan.

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

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but attention turned to the Pakistani Taliban, who have promised a bloody response to the army's assault on their strongholds in the northwestern tribal area of North Waziristan.

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

In Peshawar, authorities said the Airbus A310 landed safely but only narrowly avoided catastrophe when it was hit by eight AK-47 bullets from unidentified attackers.

PIA spokesperson Mashhood Tajwar said the plane was between 60m to 100m feet off the ground when it was hit.

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

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

In response to the attack, Dubai's Emirates Airlines suspended all flights to Peshawar until further notice, while Air Arabia and Etihad Airways diverted planes to Islamabad.

Hundreds of arrests

Police conducted search operations across Peshawar and arrested "more than 200 suspects" in connection with the incident, according to senior police official Najeeb Ur Rehman.

"Police commandos and sniffer dogs are taking part in the operation that is still going on," he added.

Mass arrests are commonplace in the aftermath of major terror incidents in Pakistan but most suspects are often let go quickly.

Police hailed the pilot for remaining calm and landing safely.

After the all-night siege at Karachi airport two weeks ago, and with the Taliban warning foreign companies to leave, Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific announced it was suspending flights to Pakistan from late June.

On Monday authorities diverted an Emirates flight carrying a prominent anti-government cleric and his supporters to the capital where they had planned to demonstrate against the government, raising further doubts about the security environment.

Jets hit militant targets

Pakistani air force jets hit suspected militant hideouts in the North Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan on Wednesday, the 11th day of an offensive aimed at eliminating Taliban strongholds.

The latest bombings hit targets in the Khushali Khel, Tori Khel and Khaisor areas of the district, killing 15 suspected militants and injuring seven, multiple security officials said.

The armed forces have used jet fighters, tanks and artillery to kill 361 people they have described as militants, although the number and identity of the victims are impossible to verify.

Twelve security forces personnel have been killed in the offensive, dubbed "Zarb-e-Azb" after a sword used in battle by the Prophet Mohammad.

The Ansar-ul-Mujahedin militant group, a Pakistani Taliban faction, claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed two soldiers and a civilian Tuesday with spokesman Abu Baseer calling it the start of a counter-strike against the military.

After some 10 days of shelling and air raids in North Waziristan, a total of more than 470 000 people have fled the region, fearful of an expected ground assault.

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

The UN has said up to half a million people could be displaced by the current military operation, urging the Pakistani government to allow its agencies access to the affected areas.

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