In an encounter on Wednesday in Pakistan some 72 km southwest of the northwest frontier provincial capital, Peshawar, four suspected al-Qaeda members and three security officials died whereas two officials sustained serious injuries.
Officials in the Pakistani northwestern city of Kohat said that the incident occurred just seven kilometers at the Jarma Bridge on the main road leading to a Pashtun dominated city of Bannu. The officials said that a check post was erected along the bridge which was jointly manned by the Pakistani security agencies, including police and army.
A white colored Toyota Hiace, bearing registration number "Peshawar-E 9537" at around 9:30 (according to the local time) was signaled to stop for checking but one of the occupants of the vehicle hurled a grenade on the security officials which killed a police constable Imran Khan Afridi on the spot. The officials were then reported of resorting to retaliatory fire killing all the four occupants of the vehicle, who are said to be all foreigners. In the crossfire an army official and a secret services personnel also died.
There were conflicting reports about the death of another police official who died while offloading explosives from the vehicle. The vehicle was reported to have explosives, about which high army officials said were meant to carryout some terrorist activity either in Kohat or Peshawar.
Two wounded policemen, ASI Salahuddin Khan and constable Akhtar Nawaz, were rushed to a nearby hospital for medical treatment, where their condition is stated to be out of danger. Officials in the federal capital said it would take some time to ascertain the identity of the foreigners, whereas the local officials said three were of the Chechen appearance whereas the other seemed to be Arabs.
The bodies were first taken to the Combined Military Hospital, Kohat, but later shifted to the northwest provincial capital, Peshawar.
A police official said that they were coming from Miranshah in North Waziristan, a semi-autonomous tribal region, in a hired vehicle and it was full of explosives, sophisticated weapons and grenades. Soon after the clash, the army cordoned off the whole area. No one was being allowed near the vehicle. Further investigations are in progress.
An unconfirmed report also said that the secret services official Abdul Rauf Niazi was travelling along with the Arabs in the same vehicle. How then the clash took place remains unclear. A senior military official, on condition of anonymity, said that the al-Qaeda men were on a terrorist mission to Kohat or Peshawar. He could not clear as to how the al-Qaeda men had crossed the strictly guarded five check points between Kohat and Miranshah safely.
The Station House officer of the Lachi police station said that when they attacked the vehicle the al-Qaeda men raised slogans of Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is great) and opened fire in retaliation. They lobbed five hand grenades at the raiding party from inside the vehicle. One of the hand grenades exploded after sometime when police back-up force reached the scene. All the four al-Qaeda men were killed in their seats.
A high level military team reached Kohat at 12:30 p.m. after receiving the reports of the encounter and cordoned off the whole area.
The incident is second in a week's time as ten Pakistani soldiers and two suspected Chechens were killed in the wee hours on June 25 in a gunfight at Azam Warsak near Wana in South Waziristan Agency. The men were killed when Pakistani soldiers raided a house they suspected of being a hideout for al-Qaeda operatives, but more than 30 got away.
Thousands of troops and police have stepped up their search for al-Qaeda fighters since last week's shoot-out. It is yet not known that those killed on Wednesday were from among those who escaped last week's shootout.
After the fall of the Taliban, Pakistan Army had been trying to seal the border with Afghanistan and stop al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters from fleeing into the tribal areas where it is thought they have some support.
The Pakistani official news agency Wednesday quoted Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider as saying that the tribal leaders were cooperating with the government and knew the consequences of sheltering terrorists. He added they have some leads, well enough, to establish that al-Qaeda was behind the June 14 blast outside the US consulate in Karachi, in which 12 Pakistanis died.
"We have credible information that al-Qaeda financed it," Moinuddin Haider was quoted as saying.
Since the gunfight in the Pakistani tribal areas, troops have arrested 17 suspected al-Qaeda fugitives. Earlier, police had transferred seven to the prison in Kohat. The hunt for the fugitives in the tribal areas has generated protests by local tribesmen and religious leaders. Fazlur Rahman, leader of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, or Party of Islamic Clerics, warned of retaliation and civil disobedience if the searches continued.
Safiullah Gul PRAVDA.Ru Pakistan
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