Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani police raid suspected hide-out

AP , PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

Family members visit an unidentified injured man following a suicide attack on a military checkpost, at a local hospital in Bannu, Pakistan, on Friday. A suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a military checkpoint about 3km from the house which was hit by the US missile that killed a top al-Qaeda commander.

PHOTO: AP

Police raided a suspected militant hide-out in northwestern Pakistan yesterday, triggering a shootout that killed at least two officers and wounded two others, police said.

The gunbattle occurred in Mardan town, about 50km northeast of Peshawar, the capital of Northwest Frontier Province, when officers surrounded a house and asked the occupants to surrender, said Abdul Qayyum, a local police official.

"The militants are using assault rifles. They have killed two of our officers, and so far we do not know whether they have suffered any casualties," he said.

The firefight was the latest in a series of increasingly bloody clashes between pro-Taliban militants and security forces in areas near the Afghan border. In recent months fighting has spread to other parts of Pakistan, including major urban centers such as the port city of Karachi.

About 380 people died across Pakistan last month, figures provided by the government and military show.

Qayyum would not say what prompted authorities to launch the raid and who the suspects were. However, he said the way militants were putting up resistance showed they were well trained.

In 2005, police arrested al-Qaeda's No. 3 leader Abu Farraj al-Libbi after a shootout in Mardan. Al-Libbi, who allegedly orchestrated two assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, was later handed over to US authorities.

The fighting came just days after a US missile strike killed a top al-Qaeda commander in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions that straddle the Afghan border. US commanders in Afghanistan say the areas are being increasingly used as a safe haven by Taliban and al-Qaeda guerrillas fighting the NATO-led international coalition there.

Monday's missile strike that killed Abu Laith al-Libi suggested that Musharraf appeared willing to turn a blind eye to such aerial attacks against militants on the Pakistani side of the border if they avoid civilian casualties.

Militants unleashed a deadly response on Friday, a day after Islamic extremist Web sites reported al-Libi's death.

A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a military checkpoint about 3km from the missile attack site, killing five soldiers and wounding five others.

Pakistan has yet to confirm al-Libi's death. A US official said a missile from a US Predator drone killed him late on Monday in a North Waziristan village.

The US military identified al-Libi as the likely mastermind of a suicide bombing that hit its main Afghanistan base during a visit by US Vice President Dick Cheney last year.

The killing of al-Libi, who has been described by Pakistani intelligence officials as al-Qaeda's operational commander in the border region, is a boost for the US in its battle against the terror network after a series of pessimistic assessments of its campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a court near the capital Islamabad allowed police to continue questioning for 10 more days a teenager who allegedly confessed to having played a role in the Dec. 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Police claim that Aitezaz Shah, who was arrested last month, was ordered to kill Bhutto by Baitullah Mehsud, a prominent militant leader.

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