MUZAFFARGARH - At least four terrorists were gunned down in an encounter with police in Muzaffargarh on Saturday morning.

DPO Rai Zamirul Haq said the police had foiled a plot of terrorism on the eve of Chehlum of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) in Muzaffargarh and Multan and seized four suicide jackets, 12 rockets, 40 hand grenades, 328kg of gun-powder and other chemicals as well as a vehicle without number plate.

According to the police, the encounter with the terrorists took place near Lakki Chowk, Mehmoodkot Road. A senior police official, Rai Zamirul Haq, confirmed that four terrorists belonging to banned Punjabi Taliban (Abu Ubaida group) were killed in the shootout. They were identified as Abuzar Umar alias Abdul Ghani, son of Khalid Mehmood from New Multan, Muhammad Noor Abubakar, son of Dil Muhammad, from Karachi, Umair Mehmood alias Abdullah, from Wapda Town, Multan, and Sultan Mehmood alias Rizwan, a resident of Dera Ghazi Khan. The shootout occurred following a tip-off by intelligence agencies about the entry of terrorists into the area. When the police party signalled their car to stop, they opened fire and attacked them with hand grenades. As a result, three policemen, Alamgir, Tariq and Sajjad, were injured seriously. The police did not let them run away and killed all the four in exchange of fire. City DSP Ehsanullah Shahid also led the police party.

AFP adds: “We received information from intelligence officials about the movement of militants in the area. The gunfight started when the police signalled a car to stop for checking. The car did not stop while the militants therein fired at the cops. “In the exchange of fire, we killed all the four militants. Two police officials were also injured by two grenades hurled at them by the militants,” he said.

“By seizing such a large quantity of weapons and explosives and killing these militants, we have foiled a major attempt of terror in the region. There were confirmed intelligence reports that the militants were planning major terrorist attacks in Multan and Muzaffargarh cities,” Haq said.  The authorities suspect that the militants are linked to the Punjabi Taliban faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant outfit which has waged a long-term Islamic insurgency in the country and has killed thousands of people in suicide, bomb and gun attacks.

“The killed militants belonged to the banned Punjabi Taliban’s Abu-Ubaida group and we had received confirmed intelligence reports about their planned activities,” Haq said.

Nabila Ghazanfar, a police spokeswoman in Lahore, confirmed the killings and said the cops had cordoned off the area to search for any other militants. Another senior police official in the territory, Rehmatullah Niazi, said the bodies of the militants were being identified.

Pakistan has been battling Islamist groups in its semi-autonomous tribal belt since 2004 after its army entered the region to search for Al-Qaeda fighters who had fled across the border following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

In June the army began an offensive against militant hideouts in the North Waziristan tribal agency after a bloody raid on the Karachi airport ended, faltering peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

The main battleground against Al-Qaeda and Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militants is in the northwestern tribal belt of the country, but many analysts and officials believe that some militant fighters also come from the southern Punjab.