ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Chunks of concrete are missing from the mosque's
minarets. The walls of a religious school painted with Islamic verses are
peppered with bullet holes. Black flies swarm over a makeshift bunker, blasted
apart under a stairwell.
A day after Pakistani commandos
killed the last Islamic militants barricaded inside the Red Mosque complex, the
army guided journalists around the shattered masonry and blackened interiors
Thursday amid lingering questions over how many civilians died.
A Pakistani soldier guards a hallway next to blood splattered
and bullet-pocked walls in the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, compound in
Islamabad, Thursday, July 12, 2007. [AP]
Officials say 108 people in all were killed during eight days of fighting
that began with street battles between militants and security forces on July 3,
but they haven't provided a precise breakdown of casualties.
The government says 85 deaths occurred during the 35-hour battle that ended
the siege, including nine soldiers and 19 bodies burned so severely they
couldn't be identified. It said earlier deaths included a soldier, a policeman,
some militants and several civilians who were caught in the crossfire of the
initial street fighting.
The military hoped to ease public skepticism and demonstrate how the heavily
armed extremists turned one of the capital's most prominent holy sites into a
Opening barriers of tangled barbed wire around the sprawling compound,
soldiers escorted reporters through the bent-back metal gates of the Jamia
Hafsa, a religious school for girls next door to the Red Mosque.
Signs of fierce room-to-room fighting were everywhere. Inside and out, the
concrete and white plaster walls were riddled by gunshots from commandos who
breached the southern walls of the four-story building and traded fire with its
Militants appeared to have prepared firing positions, some on the exterior
fortified with sand bags. But the stiffest resistance came from basement rooms
where pro-Taliban cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi was shot dead after refusing to
surrender. He had spearheaded an increasingly violent vigilante campaign against
vice in Islamabad.
The army said it had recovered 75 bodies inside the complex by late Thursday.
Officials said none appeared to be women or children, but conceded that 19
bodies were burned beyond recognition.
Pakistani citizens and news media have questioned the government's claim that
virtually all noncombatants escaped harm during the savage fighting of the final
battle, which began before dawn Tuesday and raged on for 35 hours.
"There's no cover-up. Why should we?" Information Minister Mohammed Ali
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of Pakistan's biggest Islamic party,
Jamaat-e-Islami, alleged Thursday that between 400 and 1,000 students and their
teachers died in the army attack - but he offered no evidence. He said he would
file a legal case against Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, over the
Thousands of girls and women aged from 4 into their early 20s studied the
Quran at the Red Mosque school for females. There was also a school for young
The government said about 1,300 people fled unharmed during the weeklong
Around two courtyards inside the girls' school, plain concrete rooms that
once doubled as classrooms and sleeping quarters are littered with shattered
glass and spent bullets. Bed rolls and school books were stacked against walls.
Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad pointed inside a small, charred, windowless room,
saying a suicide bomber blew himself up with five or six hostages during the
commando assault. He said the corpses were charred beyond recognition.
Next door, flies swarmed over chunks of masonry where militants had fashioned
a bunker under a stairwell. It was not immediately clear if any human remains
Arshad said a second suicide bomber detonated himself inside the white-domed
Red Mosque - one of the most famous in the Pakistani capital.
Soldiers, who were still searching the complex for bodies and land mines,
recovered two other suicide vests - one from the body of a fighter, Arshad said.
The other was among an arsenal of the militants' weapons and equipment that the
army put on display.
Also on show were three crates of gasoline bombs fashioned from green Sprite
bottles, gas masks, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, recoilless rifles,
dozens of AK-47 assault rifles, pistols and two-way radios. Large plastic
buckets held knives and homemade bombs the size of tennis balls.
The mosque sustained less damage than the school, although its entrance hall
was burned out, the ceiling scorched and red walls above the oval doorway
blackened. Daylight shone through hundreds of bullet holes in the corrugated
The mosque's two white minarets also had chunks of masonry missing. Arshad
said militants had used them as vantage points. The white dome, however,
Arshad revealed that 164 commandos of the elite Special Services Group fought
inside the mosque in the final battle, and said nearly a third of them became
casualties - nine killed and about 40 wounded.
"With militants in different rooms, firing from behind pillars, and then
going into basements and clearing it, you can understand the difficulties," he