Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Gunmen opened fire on a passenger jet as it landed in Pakistan's troubled northwest, killing a woman passenger and wounding two crew in an attack staged as the military wages an anti-militant offensive. The Pakistan International Airlines flight, landing in Peshawar from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, came under fire late Tuesday as it descended with more than 170 passengers on board, airline spokesman Mashud Tajwar said. Authorities said the plane landed safely but that a catastrophe was only narrowly avoided as it was just 1,500 metres above the ground when it was strafed with bullets from the unidentified attackers. "The shots were fired from outside the airport, one lady passenger and two stewards were wounded, the woman later died in the hospital," Tajwar told AFP.
Police, who cordoned off an area outside the airport and launched a search for those responsible, paid tribute to the pilot's cool head. "Credit goes to the aeroplane pilot that he managed to land safely," senior police official Najeeb Ur Rehman said. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which forced flights at the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar to be temporarily suspended.
The assault was the second militant strike on a Pakistan airport in recent weeks, after a bloody raid in the southern port city of Karachi that extinguished a largely fruitless peace process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The Peshawar incident came hours after three people were killed in a suicide bombing in North Waziristan, the first such attack in the tribal region since the military launched a major operation against the Taliban and other militants. The UN said Tuesday that up to half a million people could be displaced by the current military operation and urged the Pakistani government to allow its agencies access to the affected areas.
The government launched peace talks with the Taliban in January, followed by the presentation last month of the first Code of Conduct on national security. The truce between the government and Taliban expired on April 16 , but the Islamists have confirmed their intention to continue negotiations. Moreover, in the context of the talks, the Taliban demand the release of hundreds of prisoners, the army's withdrawal from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and the introduction of Islamic law (sharia).
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia. About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent). Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country, with Shia Muslims and Christians as the main target, with things getting worse. Violence against ethnic or religious minorities is commonplace across the country, from the province of Punjab in the north to Karachi in the southern province of Sindh, where more than 2,200 people were killed in the first eight months of 2012.