UPDATE 4-Militants attack airport in Pakistan's Karachi, 26 dead

Last Updated: Mon, Jun 09, 2014 04:52 hrs

(Adds details, updates death toll)

By Syed Raza Hassan

ISLAMABAD, June 9 (Reuters) - A group of heavily armedgunmen stormed Pakistan's biggest airport on Sunday and at least26 people were killed in a night-long battle at one of thecountry's most high-profile targets.

The assault on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi,Pakistan's sprawling commercial hub of 18 million people, tookplace as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government tries toengage Taliban militants in talks to end years of fighting.

The attack began just before midnight when 10 gunmen wearingmilitary uniforms shot their way into the airport.

Gun battles went on for five hours and television picturesshowed fire raging as ambulances ferried casualties away. Bydawn on Monday, the army said the airport had been secured.

"Ten militants aged between 20 and 25 have been killed bysecurity forces," said a spokesman for the paramilitary Rangersforce. "A large cache of arms and ammunition has been recoveredfrom the militants."

Pakistan's paramilitary force said that the attackers wereethnic Uzbeks. Pakistani officials often blame foreign militantsholed up in lawless areas on the Afghan border for stagingattacks alongside the Pakistani Taliban around the country.

"Three militants blew themselves up and seven were killed bysecurity forces," Rizwan Akhtar, the regional head of theparamilitary Rangers, said in televised remarks. "The militantsappear to be Uzbek."

Officials said no aircraft had been damaged.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, butPakistani Taliban militants, allied with but separate from theAfghan Taliban, are battling to overthrow the Pakistani stateand impose their hardline vision of Islamist rule.

Earlier, officials said all flights had been diverted.

Peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban have failed in recent months, dampening hopes of reaching anegotiated settlement with the insurgency, which continuesattacks against government and security targets. (Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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