LAHORE (Web Desk) – Seven militants who were on their way to launch an attack in a Punjab district were killed after an exchange of gunfire with police, officials said on Wednesday.

The incident took place around midnight in the Sheikhupura, according to a statement from the provincial Counter Terrorism Department. According to the police, the men belonged to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) groups.

The TTP militants have been waging an insurgency against the state since 2007, while LeJ is believed to have been behind some of the most high-profile terror incidents in recent years including the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.

But so-called “encounter” killings like Wednesday’s incident have long aroused suspicion among rights activists in Pakistan. They say police use them to dispose of suspects without going through the courts.

The police statement said that a dozen or so militants were riding motorcycles and were on their way to attack police when they were intercepted, Express Tribune reported.

“When the firing stopped, seven terrorists were found dead,” it said, adding that the men were killed “by firing from their accomplices who fled from the scene taking benefit of darkness”.

Last year in late July the detained leader of LeJ, Malik Ishaq, was killed in a similar shootout in Muzaffargarh.

He was shot dead along with fellow LeJ militants, including senior commanders, in Punjab as his cadres tried to free him from custody, according to the police.

Police have recovered a car, three motorcycles, huge cache of ammunition, four pistols and one Kalashnikov form the site.

The bodies of the terrorists were shifted to DHQ Hospital Sheikhupura for autopsy.