By Mubasher Bukhari
LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani police and intelligence officials shot and killed three suspected Islamist militants in a raid on their hideout in eastern Pakistan early on Monday and a fourth blew himself up, police and intelligence officials said.
Many Pakistani Taliban fighters and other Islamist militants from the western region near Afghanistan have fled to other parts of the country, officials say, as security forces press on with ground and air offensives in North Waziristan.
The army says hundreds of militants have been killed.
"Police killed three terrorists of the Pakistan Taliban after they attacked the team that raided their hideout," Punjab Home Minister Shujaa Khanzada told Reuters.
"The terrorists were planning attacks on the offices of security forces and important political figures," he said.
Intelligence officials said a fourth person, an al Qaeda operative by the name of Muhammad Ameer Abdullah, blew himself up after setting off his explosive-filled jacket.
A fifth man was arrested during the raid in the small town of Ferozwala in the populous Punjab province which borders India and was being questioned by police.
"A huge cache of weapons including AK 47s, rocket launchers and suicide vests and laptops were recovered from their hideout," a police official said.
All the officials were speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the last decade, Punjabi militants groups have deepened their ties with the Taliban, representing a growing threat for a country already hit hard by militant violence.
The vast majority of these militants are members of banned organizations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba, long believed to be tolerated or even sponsored by Pakistan's powerful military and intelligence establishment.
But in recent years such groups have been starting to turn on Pakistan's establishment, thanks to the growing influence of the Pakistan Taliban and its ally al Qaeda.
(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Louise Ireland)