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Two Pakistani Policemen, 3 Militants Killed in Raid on Militant Hideaway


Pakistani authorities say two police officers and three militants were killed Saturday during a prolonged gun battle in the country's northwest.

The clash occurred at a house in the town of Mardan, as police raided a suspected militant hideout about 40 kilometers northeast of Peshawar.

Police say the militants refused to surrender and instead hurled grenades and fired rockets, forcing officers to retaliate. Two police officers were killed and at least one wounded.

The raid came a day after a suicide bomber killed five Pakistani soldiers when he rammed his bomb-packed car into a military checkpoint in the North Waziristan tribal region.

Violence has intensified in northwestern Pakistan during the past year, as pro-Taliban and al-Qaida forces have taken refuge in the region after crossing the border from Afghanistan. The militants have staged numerous attacks on Pakistani security forces.

The latest fighting comes after a suspected U.S. missile strike killed a top al-Qaida commander, Abu Laith al-Libi, in North Waziristan earlier this week.

Separately Saturday, a suspect in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was remanded to police custody for another ten days. An anti-terrorism court near Islamabad said police may continue to question 15-year old Aitezaz Shah until February 12.

Shah has told investigators he was part of a five-man "back-up team," organized by militant leader Baitullah Mehsud to kill Ms. Bhutto.

Also today, Pakistani authorities have again placed a top Pakistani lawyer under house arrest. Aitzaz Ahsan, who was released from three months of detention on Thursday, was banned Saturday from visiting the grave of Ms. Bhutto in Sindh province. Ahsan spearheaded an opposition campaign against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and has called for his resignation.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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