Militants clash with police in Pakistan, three killed

( dpa ) - Heavily armed Islamic militants clashed with the police for several hours in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Saturday, leaving two militants and one police officer dead, officials said.

The shootout started when police conducted a pre-dawn raid at a house in Mora village of Mardan district to apprehend the suspected Islamic militants.

"As the police party approached the compound the militants opened fire on it. One policeman was shot in the head and he succumbed to his injuries at the hospital," District Police Officer Yamin Khan told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Another police officer and a militant died later in the firefight that was still going on at 11:00 local time (0600 GMT) after more than seven hours.

"The militants are using women and children as human shields," Khan said.

The NWFP has recently seen a surge in violence, and hundreds of people, many of them security personnel, died in the bombing campaign by Islamic militants in 2007.

Attacks on law enforcement also take place regularly in the neighbouring tribal region by Afghanistan. The death toll in the latest suicide attack on Friday at a security check post in Mir Ali area of North Waziristan district rose to seven as one more security personnel succumbed to injuries on Saturday morning.

According to local security officials, al-Qaeda was behind the bombing that occurred around three miles from the house where its top operative Abu Laith al-Libi and eleven other militants were believed killed on Tuesday in a pre-dawn missile attack. Western officials would not confirm the circumstances of al-Libi's death, but the US has in the past used Predator drones to target terrorists.

The local militants could not have carried out the latest attack because they have announced a ceasefire through February 10 and are also holding peace talks with the government, an official said.

Altogether seven security personnel were killed in the bombing and seven others were injured, chief Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told dpa on Saturday.

Thousands of al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters fled to Pakistan's tribal area after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. They use the region to launch cross border attacks on international forces in the war-torn country.

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