Pro-Taliban students at the Lal Masjid attack Pakistani Rangers, one killed; The Lal Masjid calls for sucide attacks
Pakistani security forces have clashed with the followers of Taliban supporters Maulana Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed at the notorious Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in the hear of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. One member of the Pakistani Rangers, a paramilitary police force, was killed and two wounded, and seven students of the Lal Masjid were wounded after the students initiated the fighting. “The clashes began when around 150 students attacked a security picket at a government office near the capital’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, snatched weapons and took four government officials hostage,” police told Reuters.
“Paramilitary forces fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of students outside the mosque, and came under fire from automatic weapons,” according to Reuters. This account is backed by Pakistan’s The News and the Pak Tribune. The Asia Times’ Syed Saleem Shahzad said the Pakistani Rangers struck first, claiming “Pakistani paramilitary forces were on Tuesday let loose against Lal Masjid” as “the precursor to a major operation in Pakistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda.”
Yesterday, Mr. Shahzad claimed the U.S. has been given a green light to attack targets at will in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and South Waziristan. These claims have been made in the past but the Pakistani government has continued to appease the Taliban and al Qaeda from the tribal areas to Islamabad. Recently, President Pervez Musharraf said he was willing to raid the Red Mosque but feared media coverage of the assault would radicalize the population.
At first, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed ordered their cadre of suicide bombers to hold fast. “We request all those who are to carry out suicide bomb attacks not to carry out any attack at this moment,” Reuters reported. Suicide bombers from the allied Jaish-e-Mohammad are believed to be holed up in the mosque. Aziz and Ghazi have repeatedly threatened to launch a suicide campaign if the mosque was assaulted by Pakistani security forces.
Aziz and Ghazi have now issued a broadcast within the mosque calling for suicide attacks. “We had asked to stop the firing 10 minutes ago, but as the firing continues we are calling for suicide attacks,” Reuters reported.
The clash at the Lal Masjid occurred as the Pakistani Rangers were reinforcing positions around the mosque. About 1,500 Rangers, backed by 500 police commandos, have been deployed to positions around the mosque, Dawn reported. The forces were deployed in a defensive posture, “But the forces deployed near the mosque will take stern action against Lal Masjid students if they take law in their own hands or attack any massage centre or CDs shop,” a security official told Dawn. The fighters at the “Lal Masjid also had reinforced its brigade by calling more activists from other areas and seminarie” and possessed “advanced weapons, wireless systems and special masks to be used in the event of a gas attack.”
The Lal Masjid showdown intensified at the end of March, when Maulana Abdul Aziz, the senior cleric at the mosque gave the government seven days to impose sharia law, and began setting up sharia courts and sending out the burka-clad, baton-wielding female students as enforcement squads. Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of the Lal Masjid, stated the brigade can now enforce sharia and attack CD and video shops in the capital.
The Pakistani government has caved to Aziz and Ghazi’s demands. Kidnapped police and government officials have been held hostage for long periods of time and only released after members of the Lal Masjid were released from custody. The government has failed to enforce arrest warrants for wanted suspects inside the mosque. And the government will rebuild mosques that were demolished after being illegally built.