Five militants killed in shootout in south Pakistan

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Police killed five suspected militants today in a nighttime raid on a Karachi apartment housing insurgents loyal to the Pakistani Taliban leader blamed for a wave of suicide attacks.

City police chief Waseem Ahmed said officers found a large quantity of weapons and explosives in the apartment. He said the militants were planning terror attacks in Pakistan's biggest city.

Police taking part in the raid early today told the militants to surrender, but they opened fire, Ahmed said. In the gunbattle that ensued, five militants were killed, five were wounded and six escaped in the darkness, he said.

"All the dead belonged to Baitullah Mehsud. They were planning to target the city for their terrorist activities," Ahmed said.

Mehsud is blamed for a series of suicide bombings across Pakistan that spokesmen for his group have said is retaliation for two military offensives against Taliban in the country's volatile northwest.

Troops are winding down their campaign to oust the Taliban from the Swat Valley region after two months of fighting and are turning their attention to a new offensive targeting Mehsud in his home territory of South Waziristan, in the tribal belt on the Afghan border.

Artillery and warplanes continued to bomb targets across South Waziristan today, killing 15 insurgents and wounding 13 more, intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

A Taliban commander, Qari Hussain Ahmad, confirmed the bombing, but denied that militants had been killed.

"The jets are bombing, but we have not suffered any loss," Hussain told The Associated Press by telephone.

The recent militant attacks have targeted security forces but have also hit mosques, markets and one major international hotel. The latest struck an army vehicle in Pakistani Kashmir on Friday, killing two soldiers. The bombing was claimed by a Mehsud spokesman who warned of more attacks.

It was the first time that this strategically sensitive area — where rival India has long accused Pakistan of harboring Islamic militants that launch attacks in Indian Kashmir — has been targeted by the Taliban.

The government says the recent suicide bombings have fueled its determination to destroy Mehsud's network and end militancy in Pakistan. Washington strongly backs the military campaigns, which are seen as a test of the government's resolve after years of unfinished offensives and failed peace deals with militants.

Karachi, a teeming port city of more than 16 million and Pakistan's commercial hub, has long been a hotbed for Taliban and al-Qaida-linked groups that are believed to have staged bank robberies, kidnapping for ransom and other criminal activities to raise funds.

On Tuesday, police arrested five suspected Mehsud loyalists on the western outskirts of the city and recovered weapons and grenades. Earlier this month, police said they arrested a would-be suicide bomber allegedly linked to Mehsud.