Over 700 students surrender as leader attempts to escape in crowd of women
As the standoff at the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, between government forces and the radical, Taliban-supporting followers of Maulana Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed continues, one of the leaders of the mosque has been captured while attempting to escape, according to the BBC. Maulana Abdul Aziz was captured wearing a woman’s burka. His arrest was confirmed by the Chief Commissioner of Islamabad. “He was the last in a group of seven women all wearing the same clothes. He was wearing a burqa that also covered his eyes,” a security official told AFP. “Our men spotted his unusual demeanour. The rest of the girls looked like girls, but he was taller and had a pot belly.”
Aziz’s capture comes as support within the ranks of the mosque’s students appears to be fragmenting. Over 700 students have crossed the police lines to surrender. Several thousand supporters of the mosque are still believed to be holed up inside, and a cadre of suicide bombers is believed to be among them. Fighting broke out at the Red Mosque after followers of Aziz and Ghazi attacked the Pakistani Rangers. Over 10 were killed and 150 wounded in the ensuing street battles.
Both President Pervez Musharraf and Tariq Azim, the Minister of Information, said Aziz and Ghazi must surrender to Pakistani forces. Minister Azim said the government does not want bloodshed but prefers to resolve the issue through dialogue, while President Musharraf said the time for talk and concessions is over.
Power and water has been cut off to the mosque, and the Army moved in the 111 Brigade, which is responsible for the security of Islamabad, to reinforce the Pakistani Rangers and police cordoning the area. The government gave a deadline for the Islamists to surrender, which has passed, and did not initiate and assault on the mosque complex.
The capture of Maulana Abdul Aziz increases the odds of a negotiated settlement of the Red Mosque standoff. The Pakistani government has signaled it does not wish to conduct a full scale assault on the mosque, and leaders from the Taliban-supporting Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal have attempted to broker a cease-fire.
Aziz’s capture poses a problem for Pakistan. Will the government try Aziz and others captured during the standoff and risk the political fallout from such actions? Pakistan has a rich history of conducting its own terrorist catch-and-release program. Terrorist leaders and Taliban and al Qaeda commanders and operatives are repeated detained, only to be released at a later date.
Previous articles on the Red Mosque standoff: