| A plainclothes policeman arrests a militant during an encounter in Karachi on Wednesday. (AFP)
Karachi, Sept. 11 (Reuters): Pakistani police said they had killed two suspected al Qaida members and arrested five others after a three-hour shootout today in the southern city of Karachi in which a young girl was shot dead in the crossfire.
A police source said the men were thought to be members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network, although provincial police chief Syed Kamal Shah declined to comment, describing the men only as “not ordinary criminals”.
Police in Karachi had intensified land and aerial patrols today to head off possible attacks on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the US which Washington has blamed on al Qaida.
Security and intelligence agents raided a three-storey building in an upmarket district of Karachi this morning and arrested two men, but had to call in police support after other people in the building threw a handgrenade at them.
“There was a shootout which lasted over three hours in which six policemen were injured, one of them seriously,” Shah told reporters at the scene.
Witnesses said police had fired teargas and thousands of rounds at the building before the gunmen, armed with Kalashnikovs, grenades and submachine guns, finally surrendered.
“Two criminals were killed and we have arrested a total of five criminals,” Shah said. “We have also found the body of a four-year-old girl in that apartment. She was also hit by a bullet.”
Another detective said the girl and her mother lived in another apartment in the same building, which was newly built and largely unoccupied. The mother was unhurt, he said.
One of the men shouted “Allah-u-Akbar (God is greatest) as he was led away under arrest, while another was speaking Arabic, witnesses said. The Kalma, the Muslim declaration of faith, was written in blood on the wall of the apartment’s kitchen, a policemen said.
Police, who had been stationed on the roofs of surrounding buildings, inside apartments and on the roads, fired in the air in celebration as the men were led away, most of the suspects bearded and blindfolded.
Shah refused to say who the men were.
“They are not ordinary criminals,” he said. “I cannot say who they are or why they were there. Investigations will prove who they are.”
The police source said they had recovered a laptop, some CDs and several thick books from the apartment.
A man living in the building opposite said the young men had been living there for some time, but had been away for about a month before returning last night.
“We used to see them playing cards,” he said. “We don’t know their nationalities but some of them appeared to be foreigners.”
At least 2,000 policemen have been deployed around diplomatic missions and residences, luxury hotels and offices of foreign companies in Karachi, where three attacks on Western targets in recent months have killed dozens of people.
In Islamabad, diplomats were taking few chances. Both the American and British embassies were closed to the public as a precaution, although officials said they were not aware of any specific threats.
Police said they had recovered three grenades in Islamabad yesterday that could possibly have been used for attacks on September 11.
Pakistan has seen a rise in Islamic militancy since President Pervez Musharraf abandoned support for the Taliban rulers in neighbouring Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks and threw his weight behind the US-led war on terror.