Monday, July 9, 2007

End Times For Besieged Mosque In Pakistan

The standoff at Lal Masjid is over; the final assault on the Red Mosque, in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad has begun.

Pakistan's President General Musharraf gave one long chance to a negotiated settlement to the Lal Masjid crisis, but when it didn't work he called for the "final operation" which until this point had been merely a whisper in the wind.

Here are excerpts from three current reports on this breaking story [and more updates below].

Kamran Haider of Reuters via Toronto's Globe And Mail:
Pakistani forces launched an attack on Tuesday to clear militants from a mosque compound after talks to end a week-long standoff broke down, the military said.

"We launched an operation ... to clear the madrasa of militants," said military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad, referring to a religious school in the Red Mosque compound.

A short while later he said troops had entered the compound of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad, and were coming under fire from the militants inside.

Troops have surrounded the compound since Tuesday last week when clashes between armed student radicals and government forces erupted outside the compound housing mosque and a girl's religious school after months of tension.

At least 21 people have been killed.

Earlier on Tuesday, government negotiators announced talks to end the siege had failed. Sustained gunfire and big explosions erupted from the vicinity of the mosque moments later.
BBC News:
The government wants to detain a number of people on a wanted list, and also a number of foreigners whom it says are inside.

"I am returning very disappointed," said former PM Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, after talks conducted by loudspeaker and mobile phone with mosque leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi.

"We offered him a lot, but he wasn't ready to come on our terms," said Mr Hussain.

Students at the Red Mosque and its attached religious schools have been defying the authorities for several months in their campaign for Sharia law in the capital.
Zarar Khan of the AP via Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader:
"Troops have entered the" religious school adjoining the mosque, army spokesman Gen. Waheed Arshad told The Associated Press. "There is intense firing going on."

He said 20 children had been rescued from the school in the dawn assault, but had no word on any casualties.

An army official who is not allowed to be quoted by name said commandos had already cleared the mosque and moved on to the school building. He said several soldiers had been wounded.

The assault began minutes after a delegation led by a former prime minister left the area declaring that efforts to negotiate a peaceful end to the week-old siege had failed.

A successions of explosions rolled across the city amid the sound of gunfire. Reporters saw more than 40 ambulances approaching the area along with trucks carrying extra soldiers.
No matter what happens now, this is going to be an awful day for a lot of people. Some of them are just waiting at a makeshift camp near the mosque, hoping to see their children again.

Meanwhile the leaders inside the mosque are saying they will never surrender and they believe their martyrdom will spark a revolution. The General President has decided to offer them martyrdom. Will it spark a revolution? Only time will tell. It will certainly spark something.

How did this happen? Some parents are saying they had no idea the school was run by radicals. Some terror experts are saying Lal Masjid has been training jihadis for decades. Was it all so clandestine even the local people didn't know what was happening there? It's entirely possible, since all the jihadi connections were run through the intelligence agencies. In other words, modeled after the CIA, with information available on a need-to-know basis, and plausible deniability built into everything.

So move along, now ... and remember: You didn't see anything here!


I will update this post as events warrant. But you have to promise not to read it.


UPDATE from Radio New Zealand:

Eight militants dead as Pakistani troops storm mosque
Eight militants have been killed and 15 wounded as Pakistani troops launched an attack against a cleric and his armed supporters in the capital's Red Mosque after negotiations failed.

Major-General Arshad Waheed said troops were inside the Islamabad mosque and on the rooftop. Two soldiers had been killed and 20 wounded, he said.

He said troops entered from three sides early on Tuesday in an attempt to save the lives of unarmed people inside.

Huge blasts rocked the mosque compound and the sound of heavy gunfire could be heard. The fighting was continuing.
More updates from Dawn:

23 militants, three troops dead at Lal Masjid: army
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (AFP) - At least 23 militants and three soldiers were killed Tuesday in a Pakistan army assault on besieged Lal Masjid in the heart of Islamabad, the military said.

“According to my information 23 militants were killed and at least 15 injured. Three from the security forces were also killed and 15 wounded,” Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.

He said he had “no information” about the fate of Abdul Rashi Ghazi, the firebrand cleric leading the militants holding out at the mosque. He also said he did not know if any women were among the dead.

The government says female students from a religious school attached to the mosque have been held inside, along with children.

General Arshad said there had been no suicide blasts yet inside the compound, following reports that 15 suicide vests had been issued to militants inside the mosque in the run-up to the assault. Around 60 percent of the compound had now been cleared, he added.

The military made loudspeaker announcements to militants in the mosque that those who wished to surrender could come out with their hands up, otherwise they would be killed. (Posted @ 08:55 PST)
Pakistan storms Lal Masjid, 23 dead
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (AFP) - Pakistani troops Tuesday launched Operation Silence against militants holed up in Lal Masjid after negotiations to free women and children failed, leaving 20 rebels and three troops dead.

Massive blasts and intense gunfire rocked the mosque, where hundreds of people, mostly women and children, have been held as human shields for eight days.

Plumes of black smoke rose above the complex. Around 20 children escaped from the fortified mosque and were rescued by security forces, the military said.

Dozens of ambulances with sirens wailing were seen in nearby streets. “It is a final push to clear the mosque of armed militants,” military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said.

The battle was still raging after more than three hours. Troops entered the building from three sides and were backed by armoured personnel carriers.

The government has said around 100 militants were inside the compound along with 300-400 women and children.

Arshad said he had “no information” about the fate of Abdul Rashi Ghazi, the cleric leading the militants.

“The militants are using small arms and grenades. They are in the basement, we have covered the rooftop,” he said.

Ghazi, 43, telephoned a private television channel after the raid began to say that his elderly mother was wounded in the clashes.

Authorities made announcements on loudspeakers urging residents in the surrounding area to stay inside for their safety.

Minutes before the raid top government negotiator Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a former Pakistani premier, announced the failure of talks with Ghazi.

“After 11 hours of negotiations we are deeply disappointed that the talks did not succeed,” he told a news conference near the mosque. “We are returning in disappointment.” (Posted @ 09:03 PST)
Forty militants, 3 troops dead in Lal Masjid assault
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (Reuters) - Forty militants and three Pakistani soldiers have been killed in an assault on Tuesday by security forces on Lal Masjid complex in the capital, the military said. The operation was still on going on, a spokesman said. No civilians, apart from militants, were known to have been killed, a spokesman said. (Posted @ 09:35 PST)
Australia's Herald-Sun

Forty-three die in mosque battle
ABOUT 40 militants and three soldiers had been killed in a Pakistan army assault today on a radical mosque in the capital Islamabad, the military said.

"As far as a figure of militants is concerned the information I have from troops carrying out the operation is around 40," chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said.

"Three security officials are shaheed (martyred), 15 injured," he added.

The operation at the Red Mosque was still continuing and intermittent gun battles were taking place in the compound, Major General Arshad said.

Lal Masjid: women, children not yet found
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (AFP) - Pakistani forces which raided Lal Masjid at dawnTuesday have not yet found any of the hundreds of women and children believed to be held inside, the army said amid ongoing clashes with militants.

Chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said around 70 percent of the mosque compound had been cleared but rebels were still holding out in basements and servants' quarters. (Posted @ 10:02 PST)
Lal Masjid: tough resistance reported
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (Reuter) With more than two-thirds of the Lal Masjid complex cleared, commandos had yet to encounter any of the women and children as they fought their way to the basement of the religious school where the militants mounted a last stand, five hours after the operation began.

The hundreds of women and children believed to be in the compound were in areas security forces had yet to clear, officials said.

“They have yet to be encountered,” he said. “Progress is very slow... The area is heavily mined and we're facing stiff resistance,” a security official told Reuters during the fighting. There are fears the militants may resort to suicide bombs.

A military spokesman said he had no information about the fate of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, but according to a senior security official, Ghazi had been captured.

The militants put up strong resistance, using rockets and grenades as well as automatic weapons, and soldiers came under fire from the minarets as they overran the mosque at the beginning of the assault, allowing 20 children to escape.

After clearing the mosque, commandos, backed by paramilitary troops, swept resistance from the rooftop of the school and worked their way down through the two-storey building. (Posted @ 10:40 PST)
Where talks broke down
ISLAMABAD, July 10 : - As Operation Silence entered the decisive phase and troops were engaged in mopping up to the militants, private TV channels reported that the talks for a peaceful resolution of the Lal Masjid standoff ended on account of cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi insisting on safe passage for the foreign militants inside the mosque complex.

Chaudhry Shujaat Husain, who led the negotiating team, and ministers Ijazul Haq and Tariq Azim said it was the first time that Ghazi made a mention of foreign militants and wanted the deal to include their safety as well.

There were also the minor issues of the future status and control of the mosque complex including the children’s library and Jamia Hasfia.

They emphatically denied any change in the draft agreement at the presidency and explained that the amendments were aimed at giving legal shape to the draft agreement. (Posted @ 11:26 PST)
Dead bodies everywhere inside Lal Masjid: witness
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (AFP) - Dead bodies are “everywhere” inside a radical Pakistani mosque raided by troops on Tuesday, a source inside the complex told AFP by telephone. (Posted @ 11:28 PST)
Lal Masjid: 50 militants surrender
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (AFP) - Around 50 suspected militants surrendered to government forces Tuesday during a break in fighting at Lal Masjid, a military official said.

“Fifty militants have surrendered to troops after they were given a last chance to give themselves up,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Earlier 20 children also escaped from the mosque when the operation started. (Posted @ 12:06 PST)
Ghazi’s mother dies of suffocation: witness
ISLAMABAD, July 10 (AFP) - Dead bodies are “everywhere” inside Lal Masjid stormed by troops early Tuesday morning, a source inside the mosque complex told AFP by telephone.

A man who picked up Abdul Rashid Ghazi's mobile phones said those inside were under “massive bombing and gunfire.”

”There is no contact with each other because no one can leave the rooms and basements. There are dead bodies everywhere,” the witness added, declining to give his name.

One of those killed was Ghazi's mother, who died of suffocation from smoke caused by blasts, while Ghazi was still alive, the source added.

The army says around 40 militants and four soldiers have died so far in the raid.

Rebels are still holding out in part of the compound and are believed to have many women and children with them, officials said. (Posted @ 01:00 PST)

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