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52 militants killed in northwestern Pakistan

world Updated: Feb 07, 2009 09:28 IST

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Government helicopter gunships killed 52 militants in two attacks in northwestern Pakistan, a lawless region where the Taliban and al-Qaida increasingly hold sway, an official said.

The attacks took place on Friday near the Khyber region, said Fazal Mahmood, the No 2 government representative in the area. They destroyed five militant hide-outs, a large ammunition depot and eight vehicles, he said.

It was not possible to independently verify his account because the region is dangerous to visit.

Militants have stepped up attacks in the Khyber region in recent months, seeking to disrupt a vital supply line for Western forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Suspected militants bombed a bridge on Tuesday, cutting the supply line, and a suicide car bomber blew himself up on Friday in the troubled region, wounding six people including two policemen. Government official Bakhtiar Khan said the repaired bridge reopened on Friday for all traffic, including trailer trucks supplying NATO and US forces.

Pakistani officials worry that rising militancy is fanning tension between the country's Sunni Muslim majority and Shiite minority. The Taliban and several other violent extremist groups are Sunnis.

Earlier on Friday, hundreds of Shiites angered over a bloody suicide attack outside a mosque burned a police station in central Pakistan, police and witnesses said.

City police Chief Maqsood Ahmed said the protesters also damaged at least eight shops, two banks, a building housing a private school and a seminary in the city of Dera Ghazi Khan.

Ahmed said the protesters were demanding the arrest of those who orchestrated the attack late on Thursday, and that officers were seeking help from Shiite leaders to restore order. Thousands of mourners later attended funeral prayers for most of the 27 victims. "We want justice for this blood," some chanted as they beat their chests and foreheads.

Police said they were questioning 15 men belonging to religious groups about the attack.

Meanwhile, suspected militants shot and killed two alleged US spies in Miran Shah, a main town near the Afghan border, said Tahir Khan, a local police official.

Khan said the bodies were spotted early on Friday. Both men had notes pinned to their bodies that warned others to learn a lesson from their fate, he said.

Insurgents have killed nearly two dozen suspected US spies in recent months, all of them in the border region where American drone aircraft have carried out a series of missile strikes.