Authorities in Pakistan said four al-Qaida suspects and three Pakistani security personnel have been killed in an encounter in a remote region bordering Afghanistan.
The shootout took place near the northern town of Kohat when Pakistani police tried to stop a vehicle carrying the suspected al-Qaida militants.
Sensing trouble, witnesses said, the occupants of the car threw several grenades at the security forces before the gun battle. Pakistani police returned fire, killing all four alleged members of the terrorist group.
According to local officials the dead al-Qaida suspects were foreigners. They say two Pakistani policemen and a soldier were killed in the encounter. Nisar Memon is the Pakistani information minister. "This is an ongoing process and we have been, in fact supported in this by the intelligence reports and the intelligence that we receive from the FBI," he said. Pakistani officials said the suspected al-Qaida members were coming from the tribal region of Wana, near the Afghan border where 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed a week ago in a gun battle with about 40 al-Qaida fugitives. Two members of the terrorist group were also killed in that fight while several others managed to escape.
Pakistani soldiers backed by helicopters are trying to track them down with the help of a small number of American communications experts.
Hundreds of militants from the Taleban and the al-Qaida terrorist network of Osama bin Laden are believed to have taken refuge in Pakistan's mountainous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Information Minister Memon said Pakistan has suffered casualties because al-Qaida members appear to be well trained. "I think it only means that the international terrorists, they are well equipped and they have training, which is a strong training. But we believe that this is a matter of time. We continue to go around them and we will ensure that they are eliminated from wherever they are hiding. And we will pursue them, although the terrain is not so easy," Mr. Memon said.
Some recent reports have suggested that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is also hiding in the tribal areas near the Afghan border. But Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Monday that the Saudi-born fugitive cannot be in Pakistan and that he is probably dead.