Mosque compound still being cleared, over 100 reported killed
The assault by Pakistani forces on the radical Islamist mosque known as the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, has resulted in the death of Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the mosque’s leader. Ghazi was shot and killed in the basement of the Jamia Hafsa, a madrassa adjacent to the mosque, along with upwards of 100 “militants.” Last evening, it was reported Ghazi was captured. Ghazi had sworn he would not be taken alive, but would die as a martyr.
The Pakistani government confirmed Ghazi was killed in the fighting, however, his body has not been recovered. “He was spotted in the basement and asked to come out. He came out with four or five militants who kept on firing at security forces,” said Brigadier Javed Cheema, a spokesman for the Inter Services Public Relation branch. “The troops responded and in the crossfire he was killed. … There are still certain areas to be cleared. The body is in the compound. The other militants were also killed in the fighting.”
Ghazi’s wife and daughter were captured alive in the mosque, along with 27 women. At least 27 children had emerged from the fighting unharmed. Another 50 students of the mosque have been captured.
Commandos of the Special Service Group, backed by the elite 111 Brigade of the Pakistani Army, the Pakistani Rangers and the Islamabad police launched the final assault on the Red Mosque after negotiations broke down late Monday evening. Eight members of the security forces have been killed in the fighting so far, including a captain.
Security forces are said to have cleared a majority of the Red Mosque and the Jamia Hafsa madrassa. Searches are underway in the basements of the compounds for holdouts. There is no word if tunnel systems were built under the mosque.
The mosque and madrassa are said to have been heavily fortified. Pakistani security forces have encountered booby-trapped doors and windows, and have been blasting through walls to bypass the explosive traps. Bunkers were built in the backyard of the children’s library. It was thought suicide bombers were inside the mosque, however, there have been no reports of suicide attacks on government forces at this time.
The repercussions of the government storming the mosque and the death of Ghazi and the capture of Abdul Aziz, his brother and co-leader at the Lal Masjid, are unknown at this time. Ghazi and Aziz were strong supporters of the Taliban and allied Islamists movements. They had personal contact with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. The Taliban and al Qaeda launched a series of bombings inside Pakistan, including in Islamabad, this winter and spring after airstrikes on Taliban camps in the Northwest Frontier Province. Prime Minister Aziz and Interior Minister Sherpao were targets of suicide attacks; Mr. Sherpao barely escaped the assassination attempt.