ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf's
government warned Wednesday it would not tolerate militancy at any of Pakistan's
thousands of religious schools after the army subdued Islamic extremists holding
the Red Mosque. At least 106 people died in the weeklong siege and street
Hours later, Al-Qaida's No. 2 released a videotape calling on Pakistanis to
join a holy war against Musharraf's government to avenge the army assault.
"Rigged elections will not save you, politics will not save you, and
bargaining, bootlicking negotiations with the criminals, and political maneuvers
will not save you," a bespectacled and white-clad Ayman al-Zawahri said in the
video, which was subtitled in English.
"Musharraf and his hunting dogs have rubbed your honor in the dirt in the
service of the Crusaders and the Jews," he said. The video was released by
al-Qaida's multimedia branch, as-Sahab. Its authenticity could not immediately
be confirmed, but two U.S.-based terrorism monitoring groups also reported it.
Authorities said at least 106 people were killed overall since the violence
began July 3 at the Red Mosque complex, which includes two schools- one for
girls and one for boys. The dead included 10 soldiers, one police ranger and a
number of civilians killed by crossfire in initial street fighting last week.
Among the dead was a pro-Taliban cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi. Seventy-three
bodies - believed to be those of the mosque's die-hard defenders -
were found by Pakistani troops clearing the sprawling mosque complex of mines,
booby traps and other weaponry.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said commandos searching the mosque found no
corpses of women and children, although seven or eight of the bodies had been
burned beyond recognition, apparently by the militants' gasoline bombs.
"The major group of women was all together and came out all together," he
said, referring to 27 women, a 9-year-old boy and two girls, aged 3 and 5, who
emerged from the mosque Tuesday.
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.
The elite Special Services Group 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 with armed supporters of the
mosque on July 3.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz warned the government would act against any other
madrassa, or religious school, found to be involved in militancy.
"Militancy cannot be promoted, period," he told reporters. "The law will take
its course, as the law took its course here."
Musharraf vowed five years ago to regulate Pakistan's thousands of
religious schools, but concerns have only grown that some are used as sanctuaries
or training sites for militants - including Taliban insurgents fighting in
Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim conceded it was possible that other
madrassas in Pakistan could be harboring weaponry like the Red Mosque, but added
that the assault had sent a strong message that the government "meant business."
"We need to be now much more vigilant, but I hope they (extremist madrassas)
have got the message that if they are in involved in such activities, they will
have to face action," he said.
Students at the mosque's male and female schools ranged in age from as young
as 4 to their early 20s. The female school also housed some widows and children
left homeless by the 2005 earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people in
Relatives of students 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.
"Oh God! help me find my son!" said Mohammed Ajmal, 39, who lost contact with
14-year-old Mohammed Amjad four days ago. "I went to all hospitals. I contacted
police and the government, but I have no information about my son," he said,
raising his arms to the sky.
Ajmal, who sent Amjad from their remote hometown in northern Pakistan a year
ago to study the Quran at a religious school associated with the Red Mosque, was
among about 100 parents searching for their loved ones at the sports stadium.
The government says 1,300 people, including men, women and children, escaped
or otherwise left the compound after the army siege began July 3. It followed
six months of mounting tension amid a vigilante campaign by the mosque's leaders
to kidnap policemen and alleged prostitutes in a bid to impose Taliban-style
morality on the capital.
Lying in his hospital bed at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences,
Bakhat Fazil recounted how he was hit by bullets in the shoulder and leg when he
rushed to the mosque to rescue his three daughters trapped inside.
He later learned his daughters, all under age 10, had been freed and were
Fazil said he sent his daughters to study, not to become militants, and that
they were prevented from leaving the seminary by extremists.
"I know many parents begged for the release of their children," said the
38-year-old taxi driver. "I curse those who didn't free innocent women and
children, and who held them against their will."
The casualties at the Red Mosque could further turn public opinion against
Musharraf, who already faces a backlash for his bungled attempts to fire the
country's chief justice. But it also pushed the controversy over the judge out
of a harsh media spotlight and prompted a fresh show of support from Washington.
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.