Sunday, July 8, 2007

Death Toll Stands At 21 In Islamabad Mosque Standoff, Amid Vows Of Martyrdom And Talk Of Revolution

The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) standoff continues in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, where hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Pakistani policemen have had an estimated 60 to 80 radical Islamists surrounded since Tuesday.

More than a thousand students have escaped from the besieged mosque complex since the violence began six days ago, but more -- possibly several hundred more, including women and children -- are still inside. [In the photo, friends and relatives of those still inside the mosque wait for their loved ones at a makeshift camp nearby.]

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf has been praised by his American friends for his restraint in handling the crisis, but he has also been criticized for not taking serious steps sooner.

By Saturday he appeared to be extremely serious.

As Carlotta Gall reported in the New York Times,

Pakistani President Tells Militants: Surrender or Die:
Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in his first comments on the five-day siege of militants in a mosque complex in the capital, said Saturday that the mosque leader and his armed followers should surrender or prepare to die.

“They should not prolong, they should surrender and hand over their weapons, otherwise they risk being killed,” he told news agencies during a visit to the flood-hit southwestern province of Baluchistan. “They have defamed Islam. They have defamed Pakistan. They have embarrassed Pakistan internationally.”

“The government has enough power and no one can stand before its might,” he said. “Our concern is for children and women and we are showing lot of patience and restraint.”
So the ultimatum has been presented; it appears to have been accepted, as well.
President Pervez Musharraf [...] warned the militants on Saturday that they would be killed if they did not surrender.

Ghazi -- polite, articulate and soft-spoken -- said his followers would sooner die.
This according to Zeeshan Haider, in a hot-off-the net report from Reuters India.

Rebel cleric wants death to spark Pakistani revolution:
A cleric leading militants besieged in an Islamabad mosque hopes their "martyrdom" would spark an Islamic revolution in Pakistan, he said in a statement published by newspapers on Sunday.

Surrounded by government forces, Abdul Rashid Ghazi took over leadership of a Taliban-style movement at Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, after his brother was caught trying to escape a day after the siege began last Tuesday.

"We have firm belief in God that our blood will lead to a revolution in the country," the grey-bearded Ghazi said in a statement characterised as a "will" by Jang, Pakistan's biggest selling Urdu language newspaper.

"God willing, Islamic revolution will be the destiny of this nation," wrote the rebel cleric, whose movement is symptomatic of militancy and extremism seeping into Pakistani cities from tribal areas near the Afghan border.
Elsewhere it has been asserted that the extremism seeping into Pakistan from tribal areas has al-Q'aeda connections. More on that in a moment, perhaps...

Zeeshan Haider continues:
Many of the 5,000 students enrolled at the two madrasas (Islamic schools) affiliated to Lal Masjid before the violence began came from Taliban hotbeds like the Waziristan tribal region.

So far, at least 21 people have been killed, most of them in clashes between armed students and paramilitary troops on Tuesday that led to the siege of the compound housing Lal Masjid and a girls' madrasa called Jamia Hafsa.

Musharraf said security forces had acted with restraint so far in order to minimise casualties among women and children belonging to the cleric brothers' Taliban-style movement, some of whom the government believes are being used as human shields.
Ghazi, of course, denies this. Who wouldn't? Would anyone say "Yeah, you got us, mate! We're using innocent women and children as human shields. Go ahead and bomb us. We're ready to die. But think of the women and children!"
Ghazi denied children were coerced into staying in the compound, and said they remained out of support for his cause.

"We want justice for poor people. They should get bread. We want an end to adultery, bribery, oppression, obscenity and nepotism. Implementation of the Islamic system is panacea to all these problems," wrote Ghazi.
The system Ghazi advocates appears to embody a few problems of its own, however.
The rebel holds a masters degree in international relations from Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University and was fired as a civil servant over involvement in militant activities.
There's a detail you don't often see in mainstream US/UK accounts of the standoff. You also don't see much about the motives of the radical militants who say they are ready to die for their cause.

To spark a revolution? A revolution over what? Because they hate our freedoms?
Ghazi said his movement sprang out of bitterness over the Musharraf government's amendment of Islamic laws on rape last year, the demolition of mosques illegally built on public land, and official condemnation of support for jihadi causes.

He also berated the government for "handing over Muslims to infidels like cattle", referring to the transfer of captured al Qaeda suspects to U.S. custody.
As much as it pains everybody to admit it, the soft-spoken madman in the mosque may have a point. In particular, the Pakistani government appears to have no defense against the latter charge.

Michelle Faul wrote about the wholesale sale of terror suspects to the Americans shortly after 9/11.

Excerpts from Gitmo Detainees Say They Were Sold:
A wide variety of detainees at the U.S. lockup at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, alleged they were sold into capture. Their names and other identifying information were blacked out in the transcripts from the tribunals, which were held to determine whether prisoners were correctly classified as enemy combatants.

One detainee who said he was an Afghan refugee in Pakistan accused the country's intelligence service of trumping up evidence against him to get bounty money from the U.S.

"When I was in jail, they said I needed to pay them money and if I didn't pay them, they'd make up wrong accusations about me and sell me to the Americans and I'd definitely go to Cuba," he told the tribunal. "After that I was held for two months and 20 days in their detention, so they could make wrong accusations about me and my (censored), so they could sell us to you."

Another prisoner said he was on his way to Germany in 2001 when he was captured and sold for "a briefcase full of money" then flown to Afghanistan before being sent to Guantanamo.

"It's obvious. They knew Americans were looking for Arabs, so they captured Arabs and sold them -- just like someone catches a fish and sells it," he said. The detainee said he was seized by "mafia" operatives somewhere in Europe and sold to Americans because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- an Arab in a foreign country.

A detainee who said he was a Saudi businessman claimed, "The Pakistani police sold me for money to the Americans."

"This was part of a roundup of all foreigners and Arabs in that area," of Pakistan near the Afghan border, he said, telling the tribunal he went to Pakistan in November 2001 to help Afghan refugees.

The military-appointed representative for one detainee -- who said he was a Taliban fighter -- said the prisoner told him he and his fellow fighters "were tricked into surrendering to Rashid Dostum's forces. Their agreement was that they would give up their arms and return home. But Dostum's forces sold them for money to the U.S."

Several detainees who appeared to be ethnic Chinese Muslims -- known as Uighurs -- described being betrayed by Pakistani tribesmen along with about 100 Arabs.

They said they went to Afghanistan for military training to fight for independence from China. When U.S. warplanes started bombing near their camp, they fled into the mountains near Tora Bora and hid for weeks, starving.

One detainee said they finally followed a group of Arabs, apparently fighters, being guided by an Afghan to the Pakistani border.

"We crossed into Pakistan and there were tribal people there, and they took us to their houses and they killed a sheep and cooked the meat and we ate," he said.

That night, they were taken to a mosque, where about 100 Arabs also sheltered. After being fed bread and tea, they were told to leave in groups of 10, taken to a truck, and driven to a Pakistani prison. From there, they were handed to Americans and flown to Guantanamo.

"When we went to Pakistan the local people treated us like brothers and gave us good food and meat," said another detainee. But soon, he said, they were in prison in Pakistan where "we heard they sold us to the Pakistani authorities for $5,000 per person."
More excerpts from Michelle Faul's article:
In March 2002, the AP reported that Afghan intelligence offered rewards for the capture of al-Qaida fighters — the day after a five-hour meeting with U.S. Special Forces. Intelligence officers refused to say if the two events were linked and if the United States was paying the offered reward of 150 million Afghanis, then equivalent to $4,000 a head.

That day, leaflets and loudspeaker announcements promised "the big prize" to those who turned in al-Qaida fighters.

Said one leaflet: "You can receive millions of dollars. ... This is enough to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life — pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people."

Helicopters broadcast similar announcements over the Afghan mountains, enticing people to "Hand over the Arabs and feed your families for a lifetime," said Najeeb al-Nauimi, a former Qatar justice minister and leader of a group of Arab lawyers representing nearly 100 detainees.

Al-Nauimi said a consortium of wealthy Arabs, including Saudis, told him they also bought back fellow citizens who had been captured by Pakistanis.

Khalid al-Odha, who started a group fighting to free 12 Kuwaiti detainees, said his imprisoned son, Fawzi, wrote him a letter from Guantanamo Bay about Kuwaitis being sold to the Americans in Afghanistan.

One Kuwaiti who was released, 26-year-old Nasser al-Mutairi, told al-Odha that interrogators said Dostum's forces sold them to the Pakistanis for $5,000 each, and the Pakistanis in turn sold them to the Americans.

"I also heard that Saudis were sold to the Saudi government by the Pakistanis," al-Odha said. "If I had known that, I would have gone and bought my son back."
So ... What is this? Conspiracy theory? Liberal wacko nonsense? If that's the case, then the General President of Pakistan must have the same disease, because he admitted in his autobiography that Pakistan had taken millions of dollars in payment for the terror suspects handed over to the Americans.

And now the trappings of charter membership in the GWOT are being thrown back in Musharraf's face! Such are the perils of publishing an autobiography while still in office -- and facing re-election!

What a long, strange trip it's been for Pervez Musharraf. But that's another story -- or is it??

Here's Carlotta Gall [again] in the New York Times:

Behind a Siege in Pakistan, Rumblings of Wider Dissent:
The immediate problem for the general remains how to end the siege with minimum loss of life, and how to contain any backlash, particularly in the event of a bloody denouement.

The government has done its best to avoid such an ending and appears to be winning the high ground. The militants, it now seems clear, precipitated the fighting by firing first and killing an Army Ranger. The mullahs and their students have earned little public sympathy in their own neighborhood or around the country with their campaign to impose Shariah law, raiding shops and smashing CDs and music tapes.

The arrest of the leader of the mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who tried to escape in a burqa while leaving behind hundreds of his students, many of them female, has brought ridicule in the news media, which have largely supported the government. Neither the public nor the religious parties have protested the actions of the government, which has won praise for its relative restraint.

But the standoff is far from over, and several bombings in the North-West Frontier Province this week, including a suicide bombing, and gunfire as the president’s plane took off Friday, are a reminder that the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, is only the most visible bulwark of Islamist militancy that is lodged in cities and districts across Pakistan and appears to be growing.

Government officials are privately saying they hope that the government will next go after another radical cleric, Fazlullah, the acting leader of the extremist group Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, who has been vocal in his support for the Taliban and suicide bombing as well as the clerics in the mosque.

But going after individuals may not be enough.

An investigation published Friday by The News, a national daily, found that 88 seminaries belonging to various sects were giving religious education to more than 16,000 students in the capital. Moreover, the number of students here attending religious schools belonging to the Deobandi sect, an anti-Western, pro-jihadi fundamentalist school of thought that inspired the Taliban, among other movements, has doubled in the last year alone.

The spread of madrasas in the capital has been steady since the 1980s when Gen. Zia ul-Haq, then in power, promoted the madrasas as a source of mujahedeen to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the report said.

Seven madrasas were founded in the capital during his 11-year rule, 15 more during the 11 years of civilian governments under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from 1988 to 1999, and 14 during General Musharraf’s eight-year rule.

Certain lessons must be drawn from the Lal Masjid episode, the national daily Dawn wrote Friday in an editorial. “Characters like the two Lal Masjid brothers are to be found all over the country,” it wrote. “They have money and arms and brainwashed followers willing to do their bidding.”

While their followers may be innocent and sincere in their belief, their leaders often operate with impunity, it said. “It is, thus, the brains behind them that the government should go after.”
Hmmm ... Going after the brains behind the militants may not be exactly what the GWOT has in mind.

But in the meantime, the siege of Lal Masjid continues. Here are the most recent reports from Dawn:

Senior officer killed as Lal Masjid siege enters 6th day
ISLAMABAD, July 8 (AFP) – Militants entrenched in Islamabad’s Lal Masjid shot dead a senior Pakistani army officer during fierce clashes with troops on the sixth day of the siege on Sunday.

Colonel Haroon Islam was leading an operation to help free some of the women and children being used as human shields by the militants inside the fortified mosque complex when he was shot, the army said.

Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP another army officer was injured in the fighting.

“Rashid Ghazi and his militants were responsible for the killing of a senior army officer,” Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani said. “The operation will continue and Ghazi has to surrender.”

Security forces have held back from raiding the now bullet-pocked mosque but there have been intense clashes around the perimeter. Security forces blew up sections of the compound wall during the night and there were further intense exchanges of fire, a security official said early Sunday.

“Security forces dynamited the wall to allow people inside to come out.” They risked being shot by militants if they attempted to climb the wall, which is seven to eight feet high, he said.

Cleric Abdul Rasheed Ghazi claimed security forces had killed 30 female and 40 male students in the siege. The women were buried at the site, he said.

The government says the total death toll is 20. The cleric said he and his followers had enough rations, arms and ammunition inside the compound to “fight for another 25 to 30 days and we will do that, God willing.”
Fortunately the all-purpose solution stands ready -- the story has even been set up, if indeed it is a setup. But, like every other aspect of the GWOT, regardless of its truth or fiction, the story packs a punch.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan mosque: security officials
ISLAMABAD, July 8, 2007 (AFP) - Islamic militants from a group linked to Al-Qaeda and to the murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl are believed to be leading hold-outs at a Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, security officials said Sunday.

At least two commanders from the banned group Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami, whose name means Movement of Islamic Holy War, are inside the besieged Mosque, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

“We believe there are militants from Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami, which was involved in the Pearl murder. Based on intelligence we suspect that two commanders from the group are in there,” one senior official told AFP. “They have taken control and they are putting up fierce resistance.”

The information was based on “intercepts” and other intelligence, the officials said, without naming the men. But the militants are thought to be giving orders to the hundreds of radical students in the mosque, they said.

The government says women and children are being held as human shields, which the mosque's clerics deny. “Our forces are holding back as long as it is possible to avoid the deaths of women and children,” the security official said.
So there you have it. Last week some of the militants inside the besieged complex were described as "suicide bombers from an al Qaeda-linked militant group". But that wasn't quite good enough, and now that the crisis appears to be intensifying, we're told that "two commanders" have "taken control".

Pretty soon they will all be al-Q'aeda: the militants leading the resistance, the mosque leadership and staff, any male students remaining in the complex, and of course all the women and children too.

Musharraf is saying "surrender or die," and Ghazi is saying "our deaths will spark the revolution."

So converting everybody inside the mosque to al-Q'aeda militants appears to be the only way out. Because if they're all al-Q'aeda, the Pakistani police don't have to worry about killing them, right?

In fact, if everybody in the mosque were al-Q'aeda leadership, the Americans would knock them out at the drop of a hat ... or would they?


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