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4 Al Qaeda Suspects Are Slain

July 04, 2002|From Associated Press

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Four suspected members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network and three government personnel died Wednesday in a gun battle at a security checkpoint in western Pakistan. Afterward, authorities found explosives in the suspects' van and said they may have been planning an attack.

The gun battle occurred as Pakistani troops searched for dozens of suspected Al Qaeda members who escaped a gunfight last week with Pakistani soldiers in a remote village in the country's tribal belt on the Afghan border.

Officials said the suspects were coming from the direction of Wana, where the earlier battle occurred.

The suspects opened fire and hurled grenades as guards approached the van when it stopped at a checkpoint near Kohat, about 40 miles southwest of Peshawar, officials said. Police and troops returned fire, killing three of the suspects in the van. The fourth jumped out and was shot dead as he tried to flee, still firing.

After the gunfight, officials found explosives in the van, suggesting that the suspects may have been planning a terrorist attack in Pakistan, authorities said.

Pakistani troops have arrested 16 suspected Al Qaeda fugitives since last week's battle in Wana district.

The bodies of the suspects slain Wednesday, and those of the government personnel--one soldier, one police officer and one Pakistani intelligence agent--were taken to a military hospital in Kohat.

Later, thousands of villagers descended on the Kohat checkpoint demanding that the bodies of the suspects be handed over so they could be buried quickly, in accordance with Islamic tradition, a local politician said.

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