Pakistan troops storm Lal Masjid, 160 Die
At Least 160 Killed Radical Cleric Ghazi Dead Nearly 1,700 Surrender
Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri & AgenciesIslamabad: Pakistani security forces stormed Islamabad’s citadel of Talibanism on Tuesday, killing nearly 160 people, including the deputy chief cleric of Lal Masjid Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who had openly challenged Prevez Musharraf and demanded Pakistan officially embrace Islamic orthodoxy by adopting harsh Shariat Laws.
“He was spotted in the basement and asked to come out. He came out with four or five militants who kept on firing at security forces,’’ Army spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said, announcing his death.
The Army stormed the mosque in the heart of Islamabad and troops rushed in to flush out entrenched holdouts inside a women’s religious school in room by room fighting, a government spokesman said.
Militants mounted a last stand in the basements of the madrassa, where military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said Ghazi had barricaded himself in.
Till the filing of this report, sources said, around 1,700 men had surrendered to military authorities. All the detained men had been registered and locked away till further orders. However, more than 300 of them were released on the personal assurance of their parents.
“Operation Silence’’ started at 4 am with a barrage of explosions and sustained gunfire on the complex that has more than 70 rooms and several basements in the sprawling mosqueschool complex. Militants retaliated with machine gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.
A state of emergency was in force in the federal capital territory, and hospitals were functioning under the watchful eyes of the military. Mediamen had trouble covering the day’s events as entry was blocked from the scene of action as well as all the major hospitals.
Sources said although the government had agreed to grant Ghazi safe passage if he surrendered and disarmed his men, the somersault came as the defiant cleric sought amnesty for foreign militants, as well.
Minister of state for information Senator Tariq Azeem told TOI that acknowledgement of foreign militants inside the holed up campus was a point of no return for the government. He said the government moved in to establish the writ of the state.The government has been demanding that radical cleric Ghazi surrender unconditionally. Ghazi refused, saying he would prefer martyrdom. He said he and the followers of his Taliban-style movement hoped their deaths would spark an Islamic revolution.
Ghazi, a militant Islamic cleric, who had vowed to die with his students inside the mosque rather than surrender, once had a relatively moderate lifestyle. The bespectacled, articulate 43-year-old — who attended a madrassa in his youth — was remembered as a moderate pupil by a professor at the moderate Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. Ghazi did a master’s degree in history in 1987-88. He married into a moderate family and lived a relatively westernised life. He got a government job in the education ministry and also worked with Unesco. But when 9/11 happened, friends said no trace of the “old’’, westernised Ghazi remained.
THE GENERAL CALLS CLERICS’ BLUFF
Provocation: Lal Masjid was under control of pro-Taliban clerics and became a symbol of rebellion against Musharraf’s regime. Policemen and women, alleged to be prostitutes, were abducted by radical students at the mosque. Govt warning went unheeded. Flashpoint was reached on June 3 when soldiers opened fire. The week-long faceoff resulted in Tuesday’s storming
Action: Musharraf was under pressure from China and US to clear the mosque. Politically, it has suited him as it has taken focus away from anti-govt movement. It has also reinforced his authority.
What now? Fundamentalist forces in Pakistan seem to have got a setback. No public reaction so far. Musharraf will have a refurbished moderate image if he can contain the fallout
Rogue cleric killed: Abdul Rashid Ghazi, rebel leader holed out in mosque, killed in gunfire