Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gave the go ahead for a final
operation against defiant Lal Masjid militants on Sunday night, a
private TV channel Dawn News reported Sunday.
The decision was made at a top-level meeting, Dawn News
Journalists who were given permission to report near the Lal
Masjid have been removed from the site, and security forces have
started a search operation in the curfew areas, according to Dawn
The President also announced that the government would not
provide safe passage for Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the deputy chief of
the mosque leading the resistance.
Government and military officials say Ghazi has between 50 and
60 hardcore militants - some from Al-Qaida-linked Pakistani groups
- leading the fight.
Musharraf on Saturday gave the militants a "surrender-or-die"
Ghazi has said he prefers "martyrdom," and in a statement
carried by newspapers Sunday, the cleric said he and his followers
hoped their deaths would spark an Islamic revolution.
"We have a firm belief in God that our blood will lead to a
revolution," wrote Ghazi. "God willing, Islamic revolution will be
the destiny of this nation."
His Taliban-style movement is symptomatic of the extremism
seeping into Pakistani cities from tribal areas near the Afghan
As intermittent gunfire continued to echo around Lal Masjid,
Minister for Religious Affairs Ijaz ul Haq told a news conference
Lal Masjid's defenders included "terrorists and militants who are
wanted both within and outside the country."
Ghazi has said he has close to 2,000, mostly female, followers
with him; the minister put the number between 200 and 500.
Troops have surrounded the Lal Masjid in Islamabad since Tuesday
when clashes between armed student radicals and government forces
erupted after months of tension.
The death toll from the conflict rose to at least 21 after a
lieutenant colonel died when commandos came under fire from the
compound that houses the girls' seminary as well as the mosque.
Lal Masjid has been a hotbed of militancy for years, known for
its support for Afghanistan's Taliban and opposition to Musharraf's
backing of the US-led campaign against terrorism.
No full-scale assault
Security forces have refrained from mounting a full-scale
assault because of fears for the hundreds of women and children,
some of whom the government says are being kept as human
Troops began blasting holes in the walls in the early hours of
Sunday to provide an escape route for those inside.
About 1,200 students left the mosque after the clashes began but
only about 20 have come out since Friday. Two slipped through the
breaches made by the blasts Sunday.
While some women and children may have been coerced into
staying, there are many women who have been among the most fervent
supporters of Ghazi and his elder brother Abdul Aziz, who was
caught on Wednesday trying to escape.
Ghazi denied children were being used as human shields.
He told Pakistani television channels that more than 300
followers, mostly female students, were killed in overnight gun
battles. Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani said Ghazi was
Water, gas, and power to the mosque were cut and food was said
to be running short. Security forces have occupied another city
madrasa linked to the Lal Masjid.
Many Pakistanis support the action against the hardliners whose
behavior, including a vigilante campaign against perceived vice,
raised concern about the spread of militant Islam.
Islamist politicians have called for an end to the siege and for
Ghazi to release the women and children.
(Xinhua News Agency China Daily via agencies July 9,