(USATODAY.com) - Taliban militants said Monday they carried out Sunday's dramatic assault on Pakistan's busiest airport that left at least 24 people dead, including the 10 heavily-armed attackers.
A gunbattle raged for more than five hours after 10 militants disguised as police attacked with machine guns hand grenades and rocket launchers. The army secured control in the early hours of Monday morning, although further gunfire and a explosion were heard later Monday morning, reported Dawn.com, a popular English language news website.
Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility and said the attack was revenge for army air strikes along the Afghan border where its insurgents are based.
"We carried out this attack on the Karachi airport and it is a message to the Pakistani government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages," said Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, Dawn reported Monday.
"They were well trained. Their plan was very well thought out," said Chief Minister of Sindh province, Qaim Ali Shah.
The assailants killed 14 people, including airport security police, and airline staff, as they battled soldiers and rangers at the old terminal of Jinnah International Airport, used mostly for cargo and VIP services.
At least 23 dead, including 10 attackers, in assault on Karachi airport. Katie Sargent reports
Army spokesman Asim Bajwa said on Twitter that the militants "were confined to two areas and eliminated." He said weapons and live ammunition including rocket-propelled grenades were recovered from the militants, who were wearing large packs on their bodies. Some of the attackers detonated suicide vests, said The News, a local paper.
The Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif "congratulated participating troops for a well coordinated, successful operation eliminating all militants", according to spokesman Asim Bajwa.
The Pakistani military said on Twitter that no aircraft were damaged.
The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif began negotiations with the TTP in February, but a ceasefire soon broke down. The TTP attacked a naval base in May 2011. Taliban militants are believed to have growing hold on parts of Karachi, a city long plagued by violence.
Separately, suicide bombers in southwestern Pakistan killed 23 Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran in yet another bloody attack that put a spotlight on Pakistan's fragile security.
Flights were diverted away from the international airport, which authorities sealed off. Airport staff was evacuated.
The State Department warns U.S. citizens to "defer all non-essential travel to Pakistan," where "terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets."
A doctor at Jinnah Hospitatl, Seemi Jamali, said at least nine bodies had been brought there, as well as one wounded person, the Associated Press reported. She said seven were airport security personnel, one was an employee of the civil aviation authority and another was from the state-run Pakistan International Airlines.
Sarmad Hussain, an official with the state-run Pakistan International Airlines, said three of the dead were from the airport's security forces.
"I was working at my office when I heard big blasts - several blasts - and then there were heavy gunshots," he said to the Associated Press after escaping the building. He said he and a colleague jumped out one of the windows to get away, and his colleague broke his leg.