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Two Pro-Taliban Clerics Killed In Pakistan Shootout

A newspaper features photographs of radical cleric Maulana Fazlluah and other suspected militants hangs on a tree in Islamabad in late May.

A newspaper features photographs of radical cleric Maulana Fazlluah and other suspected militants hangs on a tree in Islamabad in late May.

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- Two pro-Taliban clerics have been killed in a shootout between security forces and militants in northwestern Pakistan, a day after around 40 people were killed in a suicide attack in a mosque, the military said.

The clerics were arrested by government forces on June 4 and were being transported along with other prisoners in a military convoy to the main northwestern city of Peshawar.

"The terrorists ambushed the convoy at 5:10 a.m. [local time]," a military spokesman said.

"Amir Izzat Khan and Mohammad Alam were killed and one of our noncommissioned officers embraced [martyrdom]," he said, referring to the clerics. Five soldiers were wounded, he added.

The clash took place near the town of Mardan on the main road leading to Swat Valley, where security forces launched a major operation last month to flush out militants.

Khan and Alam were close aides to Sufi Mohammad, a cleric who struck a peace deal with authorities in February to end violence in Swat. The pact collapsed after militants refused to lay down arms and began expanding their influence in nearby districts.

The military says more than 1,200 militants and 90 soldiers have been killed since the army swung into action, while the militants have carried out nine bomb attacks in several cities and town in recent weeks.

At least 40 people were killed and dozens were wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself during Friday prayers in a mosque in Upper Dir district, near Swat.

On June 4, militants shot dead five policemen and a soldier after first targeting a convoy with a roadside bomb in Mardan just hours after U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, visited the town to see camps set up for some of the 2.5 million people who fled the conflict zone.

The United States and Pakistan's other western allies, worried over risks of nuclear-armed Pakistan's sliding into chaos after Taliban's creeping advances, have welcomed the Swat offensive.

Positive Change

Speaking at the end of his three-day visit on June 5, Holbrooke noted a positive change in Pakistani attitudes and in the army's readiness to act against the militants, but said Pakistan needed international support to succeed.

Holbrooke announced the United States aimed to give Pakistan $200 million, in addition to $110 million already pledged, to help it deal with displaced people from Swat. He has also urged European and Islamic nations to do more to help.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani urged the United States to write off its debt to Pakistan to help him grapple with insurgency, displacement of people and global recession.

Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani said on June 4 that his forces had snuffed out "organised resistance" in Swat and would conduct operations on a "limited scale" to destory militant hideouts, and run their leaders to ground.