Pakistani police shot dead the chief of a banned militant sectarian group as he tried to escape detention, raising the risk of retaliatory attacks.
Malik Ishaq, head of the Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was killed with 12 others in a gunfight in Muzafargarh district in Punjab, the central province’s home minister Shuja Khanzada said by phone on Wednesday. Ishaq had been taken to identify a spot where the group stored weapons and ammunition.
“Militants hiding there started firing on the police’s counter-terrorism team,” Khanzada said. The LeJ had plans to carry out violent attacks “on a large scale,” he said.
Ishaq and the LeJ were added to a U.S. terror watchlist last year. The group has claimed responsibility for several bombings against the Shia minority in a bid to transform Pakistan into a Sunni state and has links with al-Qaeda, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
Ishaq’s killing may lead to retaliatory attacks on civilian targets, said Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, director of the School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.
Any violence risks slowing a nascent economic recovery and diverting the army’s focus from an anti-terror offensive concentrated on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“They may not have capacity to attack the security forces but they could hit soft targets like Shiites,” Jaspal said.