DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian forces battled a group of Islamic extremists holed up in a farmhouse Thursday, leading to the deaths of eight in a fight that ended when some of the militants blew themselves up to avoid capture, state media said.
The gun battle was the second clash with militants this week. Syria also announced Wednesday that it had uncovered a bomb-making factory in the northern city of Aleppo, with manuals for attacks on public buildings and security headquarters in Syria.
The sweeps against militants come amid intensifying U.S. pressure on Damascus to stop Islamic extremists from entering Iraq to join the insurgency.
It is not known, however, whether the crackdown is in part a response to the pressure. Syria has suggested that the militants have links to Iraq but has been unclear on whether they intended to cross into Iraq or carry out attacks in Syria.
Thursday's fighting took place in Idlib, about 175 miles north of Damascus, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
Security forces battled the militants for an hour at the farmhouse, killing five. Then, "a huge explosion was heard inside the farmhouse. It appeared that three members of the group, wearing belts of explosives, blew themselves up," SANA said.
SANA identified the militants only as \o7takfiris\f7, a reference to extremists who brand as infidels other Muslims who do not adhere to their views.
On Sunday, security forces clashed with militants planning to launch terrorist attacks in Aleppo, about 40 miles northeast of Idlib. Two militants were captured but died later of their wounds.
Before the militants died, they confessed that their group was planning to establish contact "with similar groups that are active in neighboring countries" -- a reference to Iraq, SANA reported.