Top Pakistani extremist killed in 'shoot-out' with police

LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) - A top member of a Pakistani Sunni extremist group that has been behind numerous bloody attacks on minority Shi'ite Muslims has been killed in a shoot-out with police, officials said on Thursday.

Haroon Bhatti, a senior member of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), was arrested with the help of Interpol last month in Dubai and brought to Pakistan.

"Bhatti was being interrogated and during the course of interrogation, the police raided a compound of terrorists Wednesday night" in the eastern city of Lahore, senior local police official Omar Virk told AFP.

He said the militants opened fire on the police from the compound.

Bhatti, who had identified the compound for police, had accompanied them on the raid, he said, adding that the extremist and three other militants were killed inside the compound "in the exchange of fire".

So-called "encounter" killings like Thursday's incident have long aroused suspicion among rights activists in Pakistan, who accuse the authorities of using them as a means of disposing of troublesome militants and criminals without going through the courts.

Pakistan's legal system is notoriously slow and relies heavily on witness testimony rather than crime scene evidence.

Cases against militants affiliated with groups like LeJ often collapse because there is little protection from intimidation for judges or witnesses.

LeJ has claimed responsibility for some of the most brazen attacks on Shi'ites in Pakistan's recent history, including a January 2013 bombing in the southwestern city of Quetta that killed over a hundred members of the Shi'ite Hazara minority group.

In February 2013, LeJ claimed responsibility for another attack in the same neighbourhood that killed around 80 members from the Hazara community.

Authorities had also been accused of quietly tolerating LeJ until July, when the organisation's leadership was wiped out in a battle with police in the eastern city of Lahore.

The group remains active, according to experts.