PAKISTAN - Seven Pakistani militants who were on their way to launch an attack in the country's Punjab province were killed after an exchange of gunfire with police, officials said Wednesday.
The incident took place around midnight in the district of Sheikhupura, according to a statement from the provincial Counter Terrorism Department, which said the men belonged to the Pakistani Taliban and the anti-Shiite Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) groups.
The Pakistani Taliban have been waging an insurgency against the state since 2007, while LeJ is believed to have been behind some of the most high-profile terror incidents in recent years including the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.
But so-called "encounter" killings like Wednesday's incident have long aroused suspicion among rights activists in Pakistan. They say police use them to dispose of suspects without going through the courts.
The police statement said that a dozen or so militants were riding motorcycles and were on their way to attack police when they were intercepted.
"When the firing stopped, seven unknown terrorists were found dead," it said, adding that the men were killed "by firing from their accomplices who fled from the scene taking benefit of darkness".
Shahzad Sultan, a senior local police official confirmed the incident death and toll.
Last year, in late July the detained leader of LeJ was killed in a similar shootout.
Malik Ishaq was shot dead along with fellow LeJ militants, including senior commanders, in Punjab as his cadres tried to free him from custody, police said.
Police said they had recovered explosives, a detonation cord, guns and ammunition from the slain men. No police were killed or injured in the encounter.