Pakistani police arrested a group of Islamist militants who were plotting to kill the prime minister and other top government officials, a top officer said Thursday.
The conspiracy against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was "almost complete," said Abid Qadri, a regional police chief. He said the militants were planning to attack Gilani when he traveled to his hometown of Multan, but gave no more details.
Militants in Pakistan have frequently attacked government officials, security officers and political leaders as part of a campaign to destabilize the U.S.-allied government and take over the state. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack near Islamabad in 2007.
Like other top officials, Gilani does not publicize his movements ahead of time and travels with extensive security.
Qadri did not offer any evidence to back up his allegations.
He said authorities learned about the plot during an initial interrogation of the seven militants, who were arrested late Wednesday after a shootout near a village in central Pakistan.
The militants opened fire when police tried to pull their car over for a routine check, Qadri said. Nobody was wounded in the shooting, but two men managed to escape, he said.
The men are members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned Sunni Muslim militant group linked to both the Taliban and al-Qaida, Qadri said. The group has been blamed for attacking minority Shiite worship places as well as assaults on security forces and other targets.
Some of the suspects are believed to have taken part in an attack last year on the offices of Pakistan's main spy agency in Multan, which is in Punjab province in central Pakistan, Qadri said.
The men were also conspiring to kill Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, also a Multan native, and the minister for religious affairs, who last year survived an assassination attempt in Islamabad, Qadri said. He said the suspects also had plans to attack a dam, a bridge and military installations.