Pakistani commandos cleared
the warren-like Red Mosque complex of all its die-hard defenders Wednesday,
following an assault that ended a bloody eight-day siege and left more than 80
dead, including a pro-Taliban cleric.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, deputy head of
the Red Mosque, announces the release of Chinese hostages during a press
conference in Islamabad. Students from a radical mosque kidnapped and then
released Saturday nine people from an alleged brothel in the Pakistani
capital, a mosque leader and officials said.[AFP]
Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said the compound was still being combed for mines,
booby traps and other weaponry.
"The first phase of the operation is over. There are no more militants left
inside," Arshad said in a telephone interview.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters that no bodies of women and
children had been found inside the sprawling complex and said the probability
such bodies would be found during the "mopping up" operation was low.
"The major group of women was all together and came out all together," he
said, referring to 27 women and three children who emerged from the mosque
"I think it's already ended. Now it's mopping up," he said. "The operation is
over. Everybody who was inside is out."
More than 50 militants and 10 soldiers were killed and 33 wounded in the
final, 35-hour assault by the elite Special Services Group which began early
Tuesday, the army said. The dead including the mosque's pro-Taliban cleric Abdul
Commandos went in after unsuccessful attempts to get the mosque's militants
to surrender to a weeklong siege mounted by the government following deadly
street clashes July 3 with armed supporters at the complex in the heart of
The extremists had been using the mosque as a base to send out radicalized
students to enforce their version of Islamic morality, including abducting
alleged prostitutes and trying to "re-educate" them at the compound.
An army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to speak to the media, said troops moved from room to room in
basements of the compound, blowing up foxholes where militants had been
A photographer took an image of one apparent militant, naked from the waist
up, being led from the mosque to a nearby interrogation center by two commandos.
Relatives of young women, men and children who had been in the mosque waited
behind army barricades and inquired at morgues or a sports stadium where
authorities set up an information center for those seeking missing loved ones.
"I am looking for my son who was studying at the madrassa, but I don't know
whether he is alive," said Jan Mohammed, 42, whose son, Mohammed Khan, could not
leave the mosque during the siege. He was among about 100 parents who were
gathered at the sports stadium.
Ghazi's body was found in the basement of a women's religious school after a
fierce gunbattle between government troops and militants, said Brig. Javed Iqbal
Cheema, a senior Interior Ministry official.
Several security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they
were not authorized to speak to the media, said Ghazi was wounded by two bullets
and gave no response when ordered to surrender. Commandos then fired another
volley and found him dead.
Arshad said Ghazi's body had been handed over to the Interior Ministry. The
bodies of others would be taken away after the end of the operation, he said.
Cheema said the body has been taken for burial in Ghazi's native village of
Rojhan in southwestern Pakistan. His brother, Abdul Aziz, the mosque's chief who
was arrested trying to escape from the complex last week, would be allowed to
attend the funeral.
The military announced that about 1,300 people had escaped or otherwise left
the compound since July 3. Authorities took an unknown number into custody,
while others, mostly young students, have returned to their homes.
Arshad said the media would be taken on a tour of the mosque complex, but
probably not until Thursday.
The casualties at the Red Mosque could further turn public opinion against
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who already faces a backlash for his bungled
attempts to fire the country's chief justice.
Following several fiery anti-government protests Tuesday, about 500 people
chanting "Death to Musharraf!" rallied for an hour Wednesday in the northwest
frontier city of Peshawar.
"This (mosque attack) is part of our government's action against religious
elements to please America," said Shabbir Khan, a lawmaker from an opposition
Islamic party, at the demonstration.
About 15 other Islamic opposition lawmakers gathered in front of the Supreme
Court in Islamabad, blaming Musharraf for Pakistan's troubles, including the
mosque attack, and calling for his resignation.
In neighboring Afghanistan, a senior Taliban commander, Mansoor Dadullah,
urged Muslims to launch suicide attacks on Pakistani security forces, calling
the assault "a cruel act."
"I would have sent 10,000 mujahedeen to support the (Red Mosque) students but
we are busy in Afghanistan and Islamabad is far from Afghanistan. I wished to go
myself to support them," he told The Associated Press by telephone.
Several editorials in mainstream newspapers said Musharraf had no choice but
to confront the militants.
"The decision to launch the final assault was not an easy one, but given the
circumstances there was nothing else that the government could really do," said
the English-language paper The News.
But it questioned how the militants had managed to find a haven "inside the
heart of Islamabad."
"Surely this is a disturbing indictment of the failure of the law enforcement
agencies to keep track of the movement of such elements," it said.
Another English-language daily, Dawn, said that "no tears will be shed over
the death of the well-armed militants," praising the government for exercising
"utmost restraint" in the standoff.
The State Department endorsed the Musharraf government's decision to storm
the mosque, saying that the militants had been given many warnings, and
President Bush reaffirmed his confidence in the Pakistani president in the fight