Maulana Aziz returns to Islamabad in triumph
The leader of the July 2007 insurrection in Islamabad has been released from custody and will preach at the very mosque where he and his followers staged their battle against the Pakistani government.
Maulana Abdullah Aziz, the former leader of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, was freed by the Pakistani Supreme Court on $2,500 bail yesterday after spending less than two years under house arrest. Aziz was greeted by throngs of students from the Lal Masjid and other supporters as he was released from jail.
According to the current leader of the Lal Masjid, Aziz will deliver the sermon this Friday, just one day after his release, The News reported.
Aziz's release from prison and the planned sermon at the Lal Masjid constitute the third major victory for the Taliban this week. Just days earlier, the Pakistani government approved the enforcement of sharia, or Islamic Law, in the vast Malakand Division, an area that encompasses more than one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province. Within the same time period, the Taliban marched into Buner unopposed and took over the district, which is just 60 miles from Islamabad. The Taliban followed their victory in Buner with a brazen armed road march through several districts that have yet to fall under Taliban control.
During the early months of 2007, Aziz and his brother Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, who ran the Lal Masjid complex together, attempted to establish an Islamic mini-state in the heart of Islamabad. Their followers established the Lal Masjid Brigade, an armed group of followers who enforced sharia on the streets of Islamabad in a region less than one mile from the parliament and the president's residence. Ghazi and Aziz's followers occupied buildings surrounding the Red Mosque complex, beat so-called prostitutes, and kidnapped civilians and police officers.
Security forces stormed the Red Mosque complex after heavy fighting on the streets in Islamabad in late May and early July. Eleven security personnel and more than 100 students were killed during the operation. Ghazi himself was among those killed. Although several hundred followers of the Red Mosque were detained, they were quickly released. Aziz was the last person involved in the Lal Masjid uprising to be still in government detention.
Aziz has strong links to al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Osama bin Laden; Mullah Omar; and Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law]; as well as TNSM/Taliban leaders Fariq Mohammed (Bajaur), Mullah Fazlullah (Swat), and Omar Khalid (Mohmand).
Both Ghazi and Aziz were behind the 2004 fatwa, or religious edict, which stated that Pakistani soldiers killed while fighting against the Taliban and al Qaeda in South Waziristan did not deserve a Muslim funeral or burial at Muslim cemeteries. This fatwa had an impact on Pakistani soldiers and some refused to fight.
The assault on the Lal Masjid was a rallying cry for Pakistan's Taliban. Shortly after the assault, the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas, already suffering a deadly insurgency, exploded in violence as the Taliban doubled attacks against security forces and government installations. The government has responded by launching limited military offensives followed by peace negotiations that have increasingly ceded ground to the Taliban.
For more information on Maulana Abdullah Aziz's release from prison and the insurrection at the Lal Masjid, see: Pakistan releases Red Mosque leader who led insurrection in capital.