Friday, July 27, 2007

Pakistan's Battered Red Mosque Reopens In Peace And Peach, But Not For Long

A suicide bomber has killed 13 people and injured more than 70 others near Islamabad's Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). Another 50 people have been arrested; for more details, see below. I will post more information there if and when possible.

The current post originally began as follows:


Early Friday afternoon Dawn was talking about the reopening of Lal Masjid, the formerly Red Mosque, like so:

Lal Masjid, now peach, opens for prayers
ISLAMABAD, July 27 (AFP) Islamabad's Lal Masjid opened for prayers on Friday with a new coat of peach-coloured paint, three weeks after an operation against militants there left scores dead.

Workers have plastered over bullet holes in the walls and repaired craters in the minarets. New carpets have been laid to replace the rubble-strewn prayer mats besides the replacement of the twisted fans, broken bulbs and fluorescent tubes, officials said.

Security was tight ahead of Friday prayers. “We have made special security arrangements. There will be scanning with electronic gadgets,” Islamabad's top administration official Khalid Pervez said.
But now -- less than four hours later -- the song is quite different:

Hundreds retake Lal Masjid, paint walls red
ISLAMABAD, July 27 (AFP) Hundreds occupied Islamabad's Lal Masjid Friday, painting the walls in their original colour and wrecking the official reopening of the complex after an army assault on militants.

Protesters chased out a government-appointed religious elder who was meant to lead the first Friday prayers at the mosque since the military operation there earlier this month that left more than 100 people dead.

The unarmed demonstrators, most of them former students of the mosque, flew flags from the minarets and pelted police vehicles with stones, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Five or six people carrying buckets daubed red paint over the outer walls, which had been changed to a peach colour during government renovations, while dozens more unfurled flags and banners on the roof.

“It is true that rowdy students have overtaken the mosque, they are not letting the prayers be held,” a senior security official told AFP requesting anonymity.

Despite tight security, the students stopped prayer leader Imam Mohammad Ashfaq taking up his position at the mosque and used the microphone to deliver their own furious speeches against the government raid.

“I was told everything would be peaceful. I was never interested in taking up this job and after today I will never do it,” Ashfaq told AFP as he left with a police escort.

The students demanded the return of the mosque's chief cleric, Abdul Aziz, who is now in jail awaiting trial on terror charges, Ashfaq said.

They chanted anti-government slogans adding that the blood of the mosque's leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who died in the assault, would “bring an Islamic revolution.” They also threw shoes at cameramen and reporters covering the event.

“It is an unfortunate situation,” interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema told AFP. “We worked day and night to open the mosque for people to offer prayers but some people, mainly former students, are trying to create mischief,” he said. “We are monitoring the situation and will take appropriate measures to restore order. Security forces have not gone inside,” he added.

The death toll now stands at 13 with another 71 injured after today's blast in Islamabad. Here's Dawn again:

Blast kills 13, wounds 71 inside Islamabad hotel after riot near Lal Masjid
ISLAMABAD, July 27 (AP) A suspected suicide bombing killed at least 13 people and wounded 71 others Friday at a hotel near Islamabad's Lal Masjid, after madrassa students occupied the mosque and demanded the return of its cleric Abdul Aziz.

The explosion occurred soon after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who for several hours took control of the mosque which the government reopened to the public Friday.

A witness said the blast went off inside the Muzaffar Hotel, located in a crowded market area about a half-kilometre from the mosque. He said he saw blood, body parts, and shreds of Punjab police uniform inside the hotel.

Neighbouring shops and food stalls were also hit by the blast. "I heard the blast and I came running. A policeman got blown into the air and landed away from the blast site," said another witness.

Khalid Pervez, Islamabad's top administrator, said 13 people were killed, including seven police, and 71 were wounded. Kamal Shah, another top ministry official, said initial reports suggested it was a suicide attack targeting police.

Explosive experts collect[ed] parts from the torso of a man's mutilated body that they suspect was the bomber's, a senior police officer said requesting anonymity.

After the bombing, police retook control of the mosque, said Zafar Iqbal, the city police chief. Some protesters resisted and about 50 people were arrested.


The death toll from Friday's bombing now stands at 15, and Pakistani authorities are "tightening security", according to the latest report from Dawn.