MULTAN, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistan police foiled a major terror attack on Saturday in central Punjab province, killing at least four suspected Taleban militants, officials said.
Heavy weapons and explosives - including four suicide jackets, 12 rockets, 40 hand grenades, 328kg of gunpowder - were recovered from the militants after a gun battle in the southern Muzaffargarh district, some 350km from provincial capital Lahore.
"We received information from intelligence officials about the movement of militants in the area. The gunfight started when police signalled a car to stop for checks and militants fired at the cops," Mr Rai Zamir-ul-Haq, police chief in the district, told AFP. "In the exchange of fire, we killed four militants. Two police officials were also injured by two grenades hurled at them by the militants," he said.
Police said they also found chemicals for potential use in a attack stored in the militants' vehicle, which was also confiscated for further investigation. "By seizing such 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," Mr Haq said.
The authorities suspect that the militants are linked to the Punjabi Taleban faction of the Tehreek-i-Taleban 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 banned Punjabi Taleban's Abu-Ubaida group and we had received confirmed intelligence reports about their planned activities," Mr Haq said.
Ms Nabila Ghazanfar, a police spokesman in Lahore, confirmed the killings and said that the cops had cordoned off the area to search any other militants in the region.
Another senior police official in the territory, Mr Rehmatullah Niazi, said that 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 Karachi Airport ended faltering peace talks between the government and the Taliban.
The main battleground against Al-Qaeda and Afghan and Pakistani Taleban militants is in the north-western tribal belt of the country but many analysts and officials believe that some militant fighters also come from the southern Punjab.