Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press
By The Associated Press

MUZAFFARGARH, Pakistan — One of Pakistan's most-feared Islamist militant leaders and 13 of his associates were gunned down during an assault on a police convoy that was transporting him from prison on Wednesday.

Malik Ishaq, who directed the operations of the Taliban- and al-Qaida-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, was so notorious in Pakistan that frightened judges hid their faces from him and even offered him tea and cookies in court. He is believed to be behind the killing of scores of minority Shiites.

Malik Ishaq in 2011.Khalid Tanveer / AP

Ishaq, who is believed to be either 55 or 56, had been detained by police two days earlier on suspicion of being involved in the slaying of two Shiites, police officer Bakhtiar Ahmed said.

Early Wednesday, as officers tried to transfer Ishaq from a prison in the eastern city of Multan, gunmen ambushed the convoy in an attempt to free him, Ahmed said. The ensuing gunbattle killed Ishaq and at least 13 of his associates, including two of his sons and his deputy, Ghulam Rasool, Ahmed said.

In a later statement, police said "14 or 15 unidentified armed terrorists" attacked police vehicles to free Ishaq when officers were returning from an area in nearby Muzaffargarh after seizing weapons, explosives and detonators on information provided by Ishaq and his associates.

It said Ishaq and five other detained militants were killed during the shootout by those who ambushed the convoy. They said eight of the attackers were killed in the gunbattle.

No other witnesses to the shooting could be immediately located. Pakistani police have been accused of extrajudicial slayings in the past, including through staged ambushes.

Malik Ishaq's body is carried in an ambulance under police escort to a hospital in Muzaffargarh, Pakistan, on Wednesday.Reuters

Shuja Khanzada, the provincial home minister in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, where the fighting took place, said the shooting wounded six police officers who "demonstrated extreme bravery."

"Malik Ishaq was behind many acts of terrorism and he was freed by courts in the past due to lack of evidence," Khanzada told The Associated Press, calling him a "symbol of terror."

Ishaq was arrested in 1997 and accused in more than 200 criminal cases, including the killings of 70 Shiites. But the state could never make the charges stick — in large part because of the intimidation of witnesses, judges and prosecutors.

The State Department designated Ishaq as a terrorist in February 2014, ordering any U.S. assets he held frozen.