Pakistani troops battle last Red Mosque militants
PAKISTAN: Pakistani troops Wednesday battled to flush out militants
making a last stand inside Islamabadâ€™s Red Mosque after fighting that
left at least 62 people dead, amid fears the toll could rise
Heavy blasts and gunfire rocked the sprawling complex in central
Islamabad for a second day as soldiers moved to clear the residence of
firebrand cleric and militant leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was shot
dead Tuesday night.
The army said the operation was in its final phase. But there was
still no word on what has happened to most of the hundreds of women and
children whom the government said were being held inside as human
Soldiers killed three more militants overnight. The rebels, some
allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, are using rocket-propelled
grenaeds and machine guns against the security forces and even firing
from the minarets.
â€śThe final stage is underway in which the residential complex of
Ghazi and his associates was to be cleared,â€ť chief military spokesman
Major General Waheed Arshad said.
President Pervez Musharraf ordered the assault after talks with Ghazi
to end an eight-day siege at the complex, which itself left 24 people
dead, collapsed. However the army has been surprised by the level of
In previous months Ghazi and his burqa-wielding female students from
a girlsâ€™ madrassa attached to the mosque had led a campaign involving
kidnappings to bring Taliban-style Islamic laws to the leafy capital.
After the militants had been cleared from the mosque, troops would
sweep the booby-trapped complex â€śto ensure that there is no grenade,
mines or other such things which could harm the people coming to work
there,â€ť he added.
The final death toll would not be available until the complex, which
includes a warren of rooms inside a multi-storey girlsâ€™ madrassa, had
been cleared, he said.
â€śThere are still bodies lying there,â€ť Arshad said.
Arshad said at least 53 militants were killed while a soldier died
overnight from injuries, taking the army toll to nine.
Newspaper reports quoting officials said the likely total was
anywhere between 80 and 200 dead, although there was no official
Around 60 women and children have emerged from the complex since the
assault was launched at dawn on Tuesday, but many more are believed to
be inside. The government has previously said 300-400 were in the
The government said the death of Abdul Rashid Ghazi was a major
setback to the rebels, some allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda and the
Taliban, who fought with rocket-propelled grenades and sniped at
soldiers from the minarets.
The cleric died â€śin a hail of bulletsâ€ť after troops spotted him in
the basement where he spent most of the day barricaded with some
children and women, interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema
â€śGhazi came out with four or five militants who kept on firing at
security forces. The troops responded and in the crossfire he was
killed,â€ť Cheema told AFP.
â€śIt is a big blow to the extremist element in the country and a
lesson for others.â€ť Cheema said the other militants were also killed
with Ghazi. The clericâ€™s body was lying in the compound while soldiers
battled to take control of the sprawling complexâ€™s 75 rooms one at a
Ghazi, 43, the public face of the mosque and its deputy leader, had
previously vowed to die rather than surrender.
He also said he hoped his death would spark an Islamic revolution in
The mosque uprising in the heart of the capital, close to foreign
embassies, has posed an unprecedented challenge to the rule of military
ruler Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led â€śwar on terrorâ€ť.
The US State Department praised Pakistanâ€™s â€śresponsibleâ€ť decision to
storm the mosque, saying the militants had ample time to surrender,
while President George W. Bush hailed Musharraf as a strong ally.
Analysts have warned there could be a backlash after the bloody
ending of the siege. Over 20,000 tribesmen in northeast Pakistan rallied
earlier in the week to call for a holy war against Musharraf, who has
already survived at least three assassination attempts by militants
linked to Al-Qaeda.
There have also been several attacks on security forces and aid
workers in parts of northwestern Pakistan that have close links to the
Islamabad, Wednesday, AFP