Red Mosque cleric Abdul Aziz captured wearing burka


Abdul Aziz after captured in a burka. Click to view.

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.

Abdul Aziz on Pakistani television after his capture. Click to view.

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.

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, brother of captured cleric Abdul Aziz. Click to view.

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:

A day's fighting at Islamabad's Red Mosque
Clash at Islamabad's Red Mosque
The Lal Masjid showdown
Pakistan: Hostage of the Taliban
Pakistan's Civil War



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READER COMMENTS: "Red Mosque cleric Abdul Aziz captured wearing burka"

Posted by Andrew R. at July 4, 2007 2:22 PM ET:

I think that this current nonsense in Pakistan is sign enough that it might be a good idea for the U.S. to shift towards backing the civil society opposition groups. He keeps telling us that it's him or Al Qaeda, but as it stands now, we're getting him and Al Qaeda. It seems increasingly like it's time to pull the plug on him.

Posted by Craig G. at July 4, 2007 4:55 PM ET:

Bill, excellent reporting, as usual. Your articles are factual and devoid of emotionalism and sensationalism. The MSM compare to your reportage in the same way the National Enquirer compares to the MSM. Thanks for reports and the website! I'd feel clueless about the war with the Islamic Extremists without it.

Posted by TomP at July 4, 2007 5:44 PM ET:

I'm inclined to believe it /is/ Musharraf or Al-Qaeda, and that we should therefore continue to support him. If you disagree, can you point to any civilian opposition group that would, itself, be capable of opposing Al-Qaeda?

Posted by Marlin at July 4, 2007 6:55 PM ET:

[...] more than 1,000 of his followers surrendered.

But heavy gunfire raged into the night, and it was unclear if his capture would lead other hard-liners to give up the fight at the mosque.

MyWay: Pakistani Cleric Captured Under Burqa

Posted by Barry H. at July 4, 2007 7:09 PM ET:

I have to agree with TomP on this one. If you look back in history. Wars are never clean and sometimes you have to take the best option that you have at hand to win.

ALLONS

Posted by Denis Eugene Sullivan at July 4, 2007 8:36 PM ET:

Greetings:

So, should we refer to him as Abdul Aziz al-Burqa now?

Posted by Thanos at July 4, 2007 9:44 PM ET:

No, his new name in the Paki blogs is "Aunty Aziz" or "Aunty Maulauna". While the hardliners are still inside, 1200 students have surrendered or been released now. His brother, Abdul Rashid Ghazi is inside, purportedly there are members of Jaimsh-e-Muhammed and a commander from Mehsud's Taliban group, but those are unconfirmed rumors, although they do appear in several papers. 8 explosions were heard in the area a few hours back, and there is sporadic gunfire mixed with calls to surrender over bullhorns.
This is actually the best possible way for it to end -- the mullah in a burqa was the best finishing touch. This will dis-illusion his followers forever since the blatant cowardice is all across Pakistan and the comment chains on the blogs run consistently against him.
Metroblogging Islamabad is running a timeline update as they get news if you want to follow further.

Posted by Thanos at July 4, 2007 9:48 PM ET:

One more note: MMA during this tried to stir up demonstrations in Karachi, Lahore and other cities, calling for support for Lal Masjid and for other madrassas to join in, those were a bust from what I've read.

Posted by Walter E. Wallis at July 4, 2007 11:17 PM ET:

Keep the guy in women's clothes forever. Subject him to women laws.

Posted by Andrew R. at July 4, 2007 11:35 PM ET:

Tom, Barry,

The jihadi opposition to the General is only a small part of the Pakistani opposition. In fact, he tends to reserve his worst crackdowns for secular democracy activists. I don't have an exact breakdown of the numbers, but most evidence indicates that a democratic Pakistan would not be an affair of "one man, one vote, one time."

Posted by Raj Kumar at July 5, 2007 2:14 AM ET:

Their are no 'civil' society for you to back!!!

The whole place is being controlled by the mullah's with the active support of the entire society. No one in the 'civil' society said anything about the Red Masjid incident. I personally have come round to the view that this incident was cooked up by the Army & the Mullah's to get the USG off the armies back.

Everyone on this forum seem to ignore the obvious. All incidents of 'green' violence hin the world has threads which lead back to Pakistan and the Government of Pakistan yet we all pretend that it doesn't.

Posted by crosspatch at July 5, 2007 2:31 AM ET:

Thanos: what is the economic demographic of the most ardent followers of the mullahs and are these people who would frequent blogs in Pakistan? And has the ridicule extended to radio and television broadcasts? I suppose the text message jokes will get passed around on the mobile phones but then I come back to the economic demographic question again.

Raj: I would say you are partially correct in your statement about all threads leading back to Pakistan. Depending on the location of the world, some seem to lead back to Iran too. Though I am not sure how many of the threads leading back to Pakistan I would attribute to "the government" as a matter of policy though I would grant that there are probably individuals and groups *within* the government that could be (and probably are) acting as enablers.

Posted by Tom W. at July 5, 2007 5:41 AM ET:

I Googled the Red Mosque story, and I found it mentioned as part of this jaw dropper:

http://tinyurl.com/2koe77

"US to hunt the Taliban inside Pakistan"

Asia Times
07/03/2007
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

(Long article, but well worth reading. Maybe Bill has a comment or two. Here are some tidbits.)

KARACHI - Since last September, North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan have been pressing Islamabad for the right to conduct extensive hot-pursuit operations into Pakistan to target Taliban and al-Qaeda bases.

According to Asia Times Online contacts, NATO and its US backers have gotten their wish: coalition forces will start hitting targets wherever they might be.

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf is expected to make an important announcement on extremism during an address to the nation in the next day or two...

[T]he US was even prepared to withdraw its support of Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, but after a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney to Pakistan, the general remains in favor. Cheney's office is believed to run the United States' Pakistan policy.

The reasons are probably twofold: the US needs Pakistan's support should it attack Iran (covert operations into Iran are reportedly already taking place from Pakistan), and the US is concerned over the revival of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Posted by crosspatch at July 5, 2007 1:43 PM ET:

"I come back to the economic demographic question again."

I wanted to clarify something about this since I heard a radio host today talking about the relationship between economic status and the lack thereof and wanted to make sure I am clear in my meaning with regard to Pakistan.

I wasn't trying to say that people who are of lower economic status tend to turn to terrorism out of desperation or hopelessness but was expressing a hunch that these people are more easily manipulated because they have fewer information sources available. If one in the NW Territories has no access to Internet or mobile phone text messages and has no communications with those who do, they are easily manipulated by those who control the information they do have access to such as radio and sermons in the mosque. It is my understanding that the radical preachers control many of the radio stations in the region and tend to sabotage stations with any message deemed to be counter to theirs.

One good step toward turning things around might be to make sure that other sources of information are easily available to people. There needs to be a sort of "information war" in the region if people are to be persuaded to give up radical ways. People who don't really believe in a radical path need some validation of those doubts.

Posted by Raj Kumar at July 6, 2007 4:51 AM ET:

Crosspatch,

[Quote]Pakistan I would attribute to "the government" as a matter of policy though I would grant that there are probably individuals and groups within the government that could be (and probably are) acting as enablers.[/QUOTE]

What they taught me at Sandhurst was that you have to deny the enemy the time & space to plan and execute his actions.

Now by not forcing GoP or if they don't then doing it ourselves publicly we are giving our enemy the spapce & the time to plan his actions and it will prove costly too us.