PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A police raid in Pakistan's northwest yesterday triggered a shootout that killed two officers and three militants and led the insurgents to use women and children as human shields, officials said.
It was the latest clash between pro-Taliban militants and security forces in areas near the Afghan border. The six-hour battle occurred in the town of Mardan, about 30 miles northeast of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, when officers surrounded a house and asked the occupants to surrender, said Abdul Qayyum, a local police official.
Qayyum would not say what prompted the raid, but said the militants were using assault rifles and that the way they resisted showed they were well trained. He said the militants briefly used some women and children as shields. One officer was wounded.
About 380 people, mostly militants, died across Pakistan in January, according to figures the government and military provided. The fighting has not been limited to the Afghan border regions. In recent months, major urban centers, such as the port city of Karachi, have also been affected.
In 2005, police arrested Al Qaeda's number three leader, Abu Farraj al-Libbi, after a shootout in Mardan. Libbi, who allegedly orchestrated two assassination attempts against Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, was later handed over to US authorities.
The latest fighting came just days after a US missile strike killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a top Qaeda commander in the lawless border regions. 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.
Pakistan has yet to confirm the death of Libi, reported Thursday on Islamic extremist websites and confirmed by an American official who said the veteran Al Qaeda leader was hit by a missile from a US Predator drone late Monday in a village in North Waziristan.
Militants unleashed a deadly response Friday. A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a military checkpoint about 2 miles from the missile attack site, killing five soldiers and wounding five others.
The US military identified Libi as the likely organizer of a suicide bombing that hit its main Afghanistan base last year during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Meanwhile, a court near the capital, Islamabad, allowed police to continue questioning for 10 more days a teenager who allegedly confessed to a role in the Dec. 27 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister.
Police say Aitezaz Shah, who was arrested last month, was a backup in case the main designated assassin failed. They have said Shah was ordered to kill Bhutto by Baitullah Mehsud, a prominent militant leader.