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Fresh gunfire at Karachi airport, security operation resumes

Pakistan's security forces said they have relaunched a military operation at Karachi airport as gunfire resumed several hours after they announced the end of a militant siege that left 24 dead.

KARACHI: Pakistan's security forces on Monday said they have relaunched a military operation at Karachi airport, as gunfire resumed several hours after they announced the end of a militant siege that left 24 dead.

An AFP reporter at the scene said shots could be heard again inside the airport -- where explosions and fires had erupted during the night -- and that dozens of trucks filled with soldiers were moving into the complex.

"We have relaunched the operation and called in additional troops," said Sibtain Rizvi, spokesman for the Rangers paramilitary force, adding that one police officer had been injured in the new firing.

The initial assault at Jinnah International Airport in Pakistan's southern port city began late Sunday and raged until dawn, when the military said that all 10 attackers had been killed.

Equipped with suicide vests, grenades and rocket launchers, they had battled security forces in one of the most brazen attacks in years in Pakistan's biggest city. Among the 14 victims were four airport workers.

After the six-hour siege, military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa had declared in a tweet that the area was "cleared" with "all vital assets intact".

The assault will raise fresh concerns about Pakistan's shaky security situation, and questions about how militants were able to penetrate the airport, which serves one of the world's biggest cities.

Officials said the gunmen entered from two sides of the airport at around 11:00 pm on Sunday -- the terminal used for the hajj pilgrimage, and an engineering section close to an old terminal that is no longer in use.

An AFP reporter witnessed three huge blasts as suicide bombers detonated their explosives.

Smoke was seen billowing from the airport as fires raged close to planes parked on the runway, while militants, some dressed in army uniform, clashed with the airport's security force who were backed by police, paramilitary squads and elite commandos. 

A senior intelligence official said it appeared the militants had aimed to hijack a plane that passengers were boarding at the main terminal, but that when they were repelled they went on the rampage.

"The passenger plane at Jinnah terminal was their target and when they failed to reach there they destroyed two private terminals in frustration," he told AFP.

After the attack was quelled, a bomb disposal expert in full protective gear was seen walking from the site carrying a suicide vest and a bag full of hand grenades.

The city's Jinnah Hospital said that 14 dead bodies had been brought there, including eight airport security personnel, a ranger, a civil aviation official and four PIA staff. 

Another 21 people were wounded, spokeswoman Seemi Jamali told AFP. The latest trouble came with tensions already high over the arrest in Britain of the exiled leader of Pakistan's MQM party, which dominates politics in Karachi -- Pakistan's economic centre and main port.

However, similar raids in the past have been claimed by Taliban militants who rose up against the Pakistani state in 2007 in an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.

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