Police thwarted a suspected suicide attacker at the airport serving Pakistan's capital late Tuesday after a shootout and blast that killed the attacker and wounded three police, officials said.
The attacker opened fire with a pistol on police who challenged him as he entered the main entrance to the airport on foot, said Moravet Ali Shah, deputy-inspector general of police in Rawalpindi, where the airport is located.
After an exchange of fire, the attacker pulled out a grenade that fell at his feet and exploded, killing him, Shah said, adding that police suspected he had been a suicide attacker and were examining whether more explosives had been attached to his body.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said it was a suicide attack but had no further details.
The bombing follows a series of suicide attacks targeting security forces in northwestern Pakistan, where pro-Taliban militants are active, and a Jan. 26 blast at Islamabad's Marriott Hotel that killed one security guard and wounded seven other people.
Authorities have yet to identify the Marriott Hotel attacker but suspect the bombings may have been in retaliation for a recent Pakistani army airstrike on a suspected al-Qaida hideout near the Afghan border that a prominent Pakistani militant vowed to avenge.
Witnesses said the forecourt of the airport terminal was crowded with hundreds of people when the attack happened about 9:10 p.m.
‘That man later blew himself up’
Mohammed Sarib, who was at the airport to collect someone arriving on a flight, said he saw a man exchanging fire with security officials. "That man later blew himself up," he told The Associated Press.
An AP reporter could see that the attacker's body lay under a brown blanket on the road leading into the parking lot, about 200 yards from the terminal.
There were no obvious signs of an explosion or a shootout. Police were cordoning off the area with black and yellow tape and had closed all gates leading to the terminal. Most passengers seemed to have already left on their own or had been evacuated.
Shah said no VIPs had been due to move through the airport at the time of the attack but refused to elaborate on whether any officials had been expected later on Tuesday night.
He said one policeman and two airport security guards were wounded in the attack but that they were out of danger.
Dozens of ambulances were lined up on the road outside airport, which lies about 7 miles from the Pakistani capital.
Conflicting reports of arrest
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment to journalists, said airport security officials arrested a man who was trying to flee the scene and may have been an associate of the bomber — but Shah denied it.
Pakistan is a hotbed of Islamic militancy and is often the scene of terrorist attacks. Security measures in Islamabad and its airport are among the tightest in the country.
However, in December 2003 al-Qaida bombers targeted President Gen. Pervez Musharraf — a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror — twice within 11 days in Rawalpindi, which houses the headquarters of Pakistan's army. Musharraf escaped unhurt, but at least 16 other people were killed.