SWAT, Oct 26: Militants on Friday publicly executed four law-enforcement personnel in a village, 16km west of Mingora, the district headquarters, and exchanged heavy gunfire with security forces in a nearby sub-district.

“It was gruesome,” was how a resident of Shakkardarra described the scene of beheading of the law-enforcement personnel.Requesting anonymity, he told Dawn on phone that masked militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles brought the four men to the village at around 5pm, fires a few shots in the air and then beheaded them.

The men, said to be in their mid-20s, had their hands tied together. They were pushed to the ground on the main Matta-Mingora road and had their heads chopped off.

“Let this serves as a warning to all those who spy for the government or help the government. All sons of Bush will meet similar fate,” the resident quoted one of the militants announcing shortly before the execution.

“We watched the gory scene in shock and horror. We felt so helpless. There was fear and gloom in the village,” he said.

There was no information about the identity of the beheaded men. Locals said that two of them were from police and from the haircut and the sandals of the other two it appeared that they belonged to a paramilitary force.

“The bodies are still lying on the road and militants are standing nearby,” he said.

Military Spokesman Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad denied that any paramilitary personnel was missing or had been killed.

However, NWFP Home Secretary Badshah Gul Wazir said at a news briefing in the evening that three Frontier Constabulary personnel and one policeman, who had been kidnapped by militants from Sambat and Baryan in Matta sub-district earlier in the day, were ‘reported’ to have been executed.He said two civilians had been killed and another wounded in a crossfire between militants and security forces in Imam Dheri, the village of Maulana Fazlullah.

He denied reports that the government had launched any operation and said that militants in the village had fired on troops who were patrolling the area.

People in Shakkardarra said that militants of Jaish-i-Muhammad, who had set up checkposts on the main road and took positions on hills, seized the four men during the checking of vehicles.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the execution, but Maulana Naddar, a lieutenant of Maulana Fazlullah, said in a broadcast on an FM radio that the men had been executed to avenge the death of three militants killed early in the day.

Earlier, security forces and militants holding positions on the two sides of the Swat river exchanged heavy gunfire.

The military spokesman said that army troops deployed in the troubled region were not being used in the area. However, local people claimed that mortar shells were fired as gunship helicopters hovered over the area.

Maulana Fazlullah, son-in-law of incarcerated leader of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, is reported to have gone underground. It is said that he is trying to garner support from the nearby district of Kohistan.

Local people said that paramilitary forces had occupied a militant training camp located in the mountains of Shah Dagai in the Khwazakhela sub-district.

Meanwhile, the NWFP cabinet met in Peshawar to discuss the situation.

Agencies add: The home secretary said that militants fired rockets at a chopper carrying IGFC Maj-Gen Mohammad Alam Khattak who had come to inspect troops deployed in the Fizza Ghat area.Military spokesman Waheed Arshad said: “The clash erupted after militants fired at paramilitary forces setting up checkposts; the forces retaliated and asked for helicopter cover. “We provided them with surveillance and gunship helicopters to give cover to fighting troops.”

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