surveillance jets supplied by the United States were the "prime targets" of Taliban militants who possibly received "inside support and help" for their Rambo-style attack on Mehran naval airbase in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.
The Pakistan Navy's P3C Orion surveillance aircraft were the prime targets of the terrorists who attacked the PNS Mehran airbase on May 22, a top unnamed naval official said during a background briefing for the Pakistani media.
During the briefing on Monday, naval officials did not rule out the possibility of "inside support and help" for the attackers, The News daily reported on Tuesday.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack
Photographs: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
An ongoing inquiry will pin the responsibility for a security breach and determine whether the terrorists were helped by personnel inside the airbase, officials said. The briefing was held even as security officials confirmed the arrest of former naval commando Kamran Ahmed Malik and two other persons in Lahore for alleged links to the attack on PNS Mehran.
The banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden in a raid by United States's forces in Abbottabad on May 2.
The naval officials told the media that the terrorists entered PNS Mehran after breaching the Pakistan Air Force's security perimeter, about 800 metres from the naval airbase. PNS Mehran is part of the PAF's Faisal airbase, and the naval officials suggested that the Aair Force is responsible for the overall security of the facility.
'A dangerous gap of coordination'
Photographs: Athar Hussain/Reuters
"The revelation indicates a dangerous gap of coordination in intelligence and security matters among different wings of defence services," Dawn newspaper reported.
According to the naval officials, the terrorists crossed the runway on the PAF side of the base after breaching security and quickly moved towards PNS Mehran.
They positioned themselves behind bushes and attacked the P3C Orion parked on the tarmac, destroying two of them.
Militants also fired from point blank range at a vehicle that rescued 11 Chinese engineers and technicians working at Mehran but swift action by the driver saved them from harm.
C-130 Hercules transport aircraft spared by terrorists
Photographs: Athar Hussain/Reuters
The naval officials said several C-130 Hercules transport aircraft of the PAF were parked near PNS Mehran on the day of the attack but these were spared by the terrorists. The planners and executors of the attack appeared to have been aware of the "crucial value and strategic importance" of the P3C Orion aircraft, the officials were quoted as saying.
The fact that the terrorists did not attack PAF facilities and rushed towards the naval airbase "gave credence to the view that they had predetermined targets and were facilitated from within", the Dawn reported.
'Highly trained, prepared and fully armed attackers'
Photographs: K Parvez/Reuters
The attackers were "highly trained, prepared and fully armed", the officials said, adding that they were so well trained that they remained unharmed while security forces fired thousands of bullets at them.
"For the sake of your imagination, I would say it was an intense, swift, well-trained and precise attack worthy of famous Hollywood movies such as Rambo," one naval official was quoted as saying by The News.
The officials said a joint investigation team, comprising the navy, Pakistan Rangers and the police, will submit its report on the attack within the next few days.
Four of the attackers were killed or blew themselves up while two more were believed to have escaped despite the hundreds of security personnel deployed for the operation to flush the terrorists out of the naval airbase.