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Gunmen open fire on jet landing in Pakistan, one dead

By AFP - Jun 25,2014 - Last updated at Jun 25,2014

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Gunmen opened fire on a passenger jet while it was landing in Pakistan’s troubled northwest, killing a woman passenger and wounding two crew as the military battles Taliban insurgents in the region.

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.

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 North Waziristan.

Authorities said the Airbus A310 landed safely but a catastrophe was only narrowly avoided when it was hit by eight bullets from the unidentified attackers.

PIA spokesman Mashud Tajwar said the plane was between 60 to 100 metres off the ground when it was hit, contradicting an earlier altitude of 1,500 metres given by police.

“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 firing was not yet clear but the airline had not received any threats.

Muhammad Faisal, a senior police official in Peshawar, said eight AK-47 bullets hit the plane’s tail section.


Pilot praised 


Police cordoned off an area outside the airport to search for the gunmen and paid tribute to the pilot’s coolness.

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

The airport was briefly closed after the incident and the Emirates airline cancelled its Wednesday flight from Dubai to Peshawar.

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

Hours before the latest incident, militants staged the first suicide bombing in North Waziristan since the military launched its major operation against the Taliban. Three people were killed in the attack.

The military said it had killed 47 fighters in the tribal northwest in its most recent air strikes — part of the 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 attacker struck in North Waziristan’s village of Spinwam, detonating a car bomb when he was intercepted on the approach to a checkpoint. Officials said two soldiers and a civilian were killed.

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 Prophet Mohammad.

The Ansar-ul-Mujahedin militant group, a Pakistani Taliban faction, claimed responsibility for the car bomb, with spokesman Abu Baseer calling it the start of a counter-strike against the military.

“It is the 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.

Also Tuesday 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 of 346 militants so far, according to an AFP tally.

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 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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