ISLAMABAD — At least four people died and dozens more were injured in a rocket attack on Pakistan's Peshawar airport northwest of the capital, Islamabad, in a brazen assault Saturday night.
Suspected militants attacked the airport in northwest Pakistan with rockets and a suicide bomber, leaving a trail of dead and injured. Local television showed what appeared to be the rockets landing near the airport, sending up plumes of fire into the night sky. The area was immediately put under high alert.
Military forces surrounded and closed down the airport which services international as well as domestic flights. The provincial capital of Peshawar borders Pakistan's tribal areas where both Taliban and al-Qaida militants operate.
Local media, citing a Pakistan Air Force official, said terrorists had attacked the airport, but had been prevented from entering the complex. The provincial minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said four militants, including one suicide bomber, were involved in a failed ground attack that followed the rocket fire.
Sultan Hassan, a spokesman for Pakistan's national airlines, PIA, said the airport was closed and all outgoing flights had been canceled. He said incoming flights from different Pakistan cities bypassed Peshawar and went directly to their final destination.
"PIA flights have been canceled," Hassan said. "There were some international flights from Islamabad via Peshawar and Sialkot via Peshawar, they have now gone directly to the Middle East."
Retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, who spoke to VOA from the scene, said the area had been secured. He said two rockets landed inside the airport, causing no damage, and three landed in a residential area near the airport.
Shah said it appeared to be a daring attack by either Taliban or Lashkar-e-Islam militants who are bent on challenging the government's control of the region.
"Overall I think there is a stepping up of these attacks, overall in Peshawar and surrounding, this is because from 2009 onwards there have been no serious [military] operations and if you leave these people to their own ways of doing things, they are likely to carry out more attacks, so I think there is a requirement to keep these people on the run, otherwise they will not let you rest," he said.
The military carried out a large operation in the region in 2009, pushing Taliban militants into the more remote areas of Pakistan's northwest.
One resident said in an interview with VOA that in her area of the city known as University Town, some four kilometers away from the airport, the blasts shattered the windows of her house and of houses nearby.
Shah said the type of rockets used in Saturday's attack have a range of some eight kilometers, but tend to be inaccurate.