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 security officials, officials said.
The attacker opened fire with a pistol on police who challenged him as he walked in the airport's main entrance, 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 they suspected he had been a suicide attacker and were examining whether his body was rigged with more explosives.
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 suspect the bombings may have been in retaliation for a recent Pakistani army airstrike on a suspected al-Qaida hideout near the Afghan border.
Pakistan is a hotbed of Islamic militancy and often subject to terrorist attacks. Security in Islamabad and its airport is among the tightest in the country.
In December 2003, al-Qaida bombers targeted President Gen. Pervez Musharraf 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.
When the attack took place Tuesday evening, witnesses said the forecourt of the airport terminal was crowded with hundreds of people.
Mohammed Sarib, who was there 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.
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 taped off the area and closed all gates leading to the terminal.
Shah would not say whether any high-ranking officials had been expected at the airport, about seven miles from the Pakistani capital. He said one policeman and two airport security guards were wounded in the attack but that they were out of danger.
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"Cooperation in this particular case was spread over a period of time. There were some arrests in Pakistan which were coordinated with arrests in the U.K."
New information underlines how close the plotters were to mounting attacks.