Militants Attack Pakistani Navy Base

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May 23, 2011

ISLAMABAD — Explosions rocked a Pakistani military base in the southern city of Karachi in a late-night terror attack, setting off a fire visible from miles away and sowing confusion in the crowded Arabian Sea port.

With the base sealed off by military authorities, there were conflicting reports of what was taking place inside. At least one maritime-surveillance aircraft was destroyed in the attack, and navy commandoes and marines were battling between eight and 12 militants, said Pakistan navy spokesman Irfan ul-Haq.

He said at least two people were wounded. But other officials said as many as four people had been killed, and witnesses reported ambulances lining up at the front gate to the base. There were also reports of additional aircraft destroyed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the second major strike against Pakistani security forces since the May 2 U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The bin Laden raid prompted warnings of revenge attacks by al Qaeda and its Pakistan Taliban allies, who have repeatedly struck at Pakistan’s security forces over the past two years, including a daylight assault on the military’s heavily guarded headquarters outside Islamabad in October 2009.

Sunday’s attack on Pakistan Naval Station Mehran, located inside a larger Pakistan air-force base in Karachi, began around 10:30 p.m. with a series of explosions.

Blasts and gunfire continued to be heard for more than two hours after the fighting started; one Pakistani television station, Express 24/7, reported nine explosions in total.

The TV station, citing officials, reported that the attackers had snuck into the back side of the base along a sewage line that bisects the secured perimeter.

Officials said the focus of the attack appeared to be a hangar housing American-made P-3 Orion aircraft, which are used for maritime surveillance and antisubmarine operations.

Pakistan has operated a small force of Orions for some time and is the process of buying eight of the aircraft from the U.S. Navy.

American personnel work at P.N.S. Mehran, and the U.S. Embassy said they were all safe and accounted for. It wasn’t immediately clear what the Americans do at the base or if they work on the Orions.

(c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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