Pakistan police battle militants after deadly airport raid

Updated 16 December 2012
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Pakistan police battle militants after deadly airport raid

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Police battled militants armed with automatic weapons, grenades and mortars in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar on Sunday, a day after a deadly Taleban raid on the city’s airport.
Fierce firing broke out after officers acting on an intelligence report tried to storm a house near the aiport, where a suicide and rocket attack on Saturday evening killed five civilians and the five attackers and wounded 50 other people.
The assault late Saturday, claimed by the Pakistani Taleban, sparked prolonged gunfire and forced authorities to close the airport, a commercial hub and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base in Peshawar on the edge of the tribal belt.
It was the second Islamist militant attack in four months on a military air base in nuclear-armed Pakistan. In August 11 people were killed when heavily-armed insurgents wearing suicide vests stormed a facility in the northwestern town of Kamra.
Two police officers were wounded in Sunday’s renewed fighting during which militants threw a hand grenade, senior police officer Imtiaz Altaf told AFP.
“A militant has been killed. The encounter is still continuing. Militants are fully equipped with automatic weapons, hand grenades and mortars,” Altaf said.
Imran Shahid, a second police official, confirmed the shootout but said it was not yet clear how many attackers were involved.
Live television footage showed troops and police entering a street amid gunfire, while an AFP reporter heard fierce firing in the area.
A PAF statement said five attackers were killed on Saturday and no damage was done to air force equipment or personnel.
Doctor Umar Ayub, chief of Khyber Teaching Hospital near the airport, said five civilians had also been killed and some 50 wounded.
“The Base is in total control and normal operations have resumed. The security alert was also raised on other PAF air bases as well,” the air force added.
Peshawar airport is a joint military-civilian facility. Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Pervez George said the passenger side remained closed but there had been no damage to the terminals.
The air force said Saturday’s attackers used two vehicles loaded with explosives, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. One vehicle was destroyed and the second badly damaged.
Security forces found three suicide jackets near one of the vehicles, it said.
“Security forces consisting of Pakistan Air Force and Army personnel who were on full alert, cordoned off the Base and effectively repulsed the attack,” the air force said.
Television pictures showed a vehicle with a smashed windscreen, another damaged car, bushes on fire and what appeared to be a large breach in a wall.
Five nearby houses were destroyed after rockets landed on them and several other houses developed cracks, while the bomb squad detonated five out of eight bombs found near the base after the attack.
Pakistani Taleban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location that the group would continue to target the airport.
“Our target was jet fighter plans and gunship helicopters and soon we will target them again,” he said.
The armed forces have been waging a bloody campaign against the Taleban in the country’s northwest in recent years and the militants frequently attack military targets.
Aside from the August attack on Kamra, in May 2011 it took 17 hours to quell an assault on an air base in Karachi claimed by the Taleban. The attack piled embarrassment on the armed forces just three weeks after US troops killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
Pakistan says more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Its forces have for years been battling homegrown militants in the northwest.


Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Updated 16 min 34 sec ago
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Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

  • The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election
  • The company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting US political groups ahead of the midterm elections.
The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake Internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the US Senate.
Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.
The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.
The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election, which US intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.
Smith said there is no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.
“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”
The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.
Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from US special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russian’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.
Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.
Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.
Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.