PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Four suspected Al Qaeda members opened fire and hurled grenades Wednesday after they were stopped at a checkpoint, triggering a gunbattle in which seven people were killed, officials said.
The dead included the four Al Qaeda suspects — all foreigners — a soldier, a policeman and a Pakistani intelligence agent, officials said.
The authorities said explosives were found in the suspects' van, and bomb disposal experts were sent to remove them.
The incident occurred early Wednesday at a checkpoint near Kohat, 40 miles southwest of Peshawar. As the checkpoint guards approached the van, the men hurled grenades and opened fire.
Police and troops at the checkpoint killed three of the suspected Al Qaeda members in their van, officials said. The fourth managed to get out and was shot dead as he tried to run away while firing back at the checkpoint guards, officials said.
The officials would not identify the suspects' nationalities. Authorities, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the presence of explosives in the van indicated the suspects may have been planning a terrorist attack somewhere in Pakistan.
The Al Qaeda suspects were coming from Wana, a remote region near the Afghan border where 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed last month in a gunbattle with more than 40 suspected Al Qaeda operatives, most of them Chechens.
Since the gunbattle, Pakistani troops have arrested 16 suspected Al Qaeda fugitives. Earlier police had transferred seven to the prison in Kohat.
Pakistani troops, backed by U.S. intelligence, have been searching the deeply conservative tribal regions along the Afghan border looking for Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives who sought refuge there from U.S. military operations in Afghanistan
U.S. military officials say they believe most Al Qaeda men and senior Taliban officials have fled Afghanistan and are hiding in Pakistan's tribal regions.
The hunt for fugitive Al Qaeda and Taliban has generated protests by local tribesmen and Islamic clerics. Fazl-ur Rehman, leader of the right-wing Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, or Party of Islamic Clerics, warned of riots and civil disobedience if the searches continued.