The battle at the Red Mosque

A Pakistani soldier takes position on an army armoured vehicle [Reuters]. Click to view.

Reports of an assault underway; Aziz goes on TV; captured Islamists will return to the NWFP

The confrontation between the Taliban-supporting Islamists of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, and the Pakistani government in the heart of Islamabad appears to be moving towards the end game. With yesterday’s capture of Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of the Lal Masjid, and the surrender of upwards of 1,400 students, the hard-core Islamists inside are now in a stand off with the Pakistani Army, the Pakistani Rangers and the Islamabad police. Pakistan’s The News reported a “full-fledged commando operation has been launched” against those remaining inside the mosque while the Rangers have occupied the Environment Ministry building next door to the mosque. Other news outlets, such as Dawn and Daily Times said the blasts at the front gate of the Red Mosque and the positioning of troops and deployment of Cobra helicopter gunships are a show of force in an attempt to get others inside the mosque to surrender.

It appears a limited raid, and not a full-on assault of the compound occurred today. Pakistani troops captured “eight hardcore militants who tried to escape from the besieged Lal Masjid amidst heavy exchange of gunfire” Dawn reported. “There was firing from the mosque. Some grenades were also hurled and sporadic firing is going on now, chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said. There was no shelling of the mosque by security forces and helicopters did not fire.”

The Pakistani Army’s 111 Brigade, a unit loyal to President Pervez Musharraf and instrumental in his success 1999 coup takeover, has been put on the front line at the Red Mosque. “The entire locality around Lal Masjid had been handed over to the army,” Dawn reported. “There were APCs all over and army units in trucks fitted with machine-guns were patrolling G-6 [the district of Islamabad that the Red Mosque is in] and nearby localities.”

Abdul Aziz was put on Pakistani Television and estimated there were around 250 male and 600 female students still inside the mosque and madrassas at the compound. Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao claimed only 50 Islamists were left inside the compound, and “are in possession of hand-grenades, petrol bombs and other lethal weapons.” Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the brother of Abdul Aziz, indicated he and the remaining followers inside the mosque were willing to surrender, however Reuters did not say if there were any conditions that must be met. Earlier Ghazi sated the Pakistani security forces must withdraw prior to any stand down.

President Pervez Musharraf “said there will be no further talks or compromise with the administration of Lal Masjid” during a security meeting. But Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is facilitating talks between Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the leader of the Taliban-supporting Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, and religious leaders inside the mosque.

Maulana Abdul Aziz said leaders at the mosque were trying to get the women students to stay. “Some of our women teachers were of the opinion that some female students should be kept at the mosque. They were politely counseling them to stay as this is the time as a sacrifice,” Aziz said, according to Reuters. “They are not used as human shields, we only gave them passion for jihad (holy war).” The images of dead women after an assault on the mosque would be a tremendous propaganda coup for the Taliban and their Islamist allied. Aziz also denied having any links to al Qaeda, which he referred to as our foreign friends.”

The Pakistani government brought Aziz and his daughter in front of the anti-terrorism court and charged him with seven criminal counts, including terrorism, kidnapping of policemen and kidnapping of Chinese citizens. Aziz was placed “on 7 day physical remand” and placed his daughter in jail.

The women who have surrendered are being released unconditionally, while the “all the men who surrendered were being taken to Adiala jail and would be released only after their record is checked for any criminal activities,” Dawn reported. “Those found innocent would be given Rs5,000 [about $86] to enable them to travel back home as most of them belong to the North-West Frontier Province.”

NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/ districts openly controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat. Click map to view.

The largely Taliban-controlled Northwest Frontier Province has long been a recruiting ground for radical mosques such as the Lal Masjid, Muridke in Lahore and Binori Town in Karachi. The Taliban have lashed back against the government in the Northwest Frontier Province.

A government convoy of eight vehicles was rammed by a suicide car bomber outside of Miramshah. Ten were killed, including six security personnel, and nine wounded. A roadside bombing in Swat killed four, including a policeman, while another policeman was shot and killed and a police station was mortared.

Police blame Maulvi Fazlullah, a radical Taliban cleric in Swat who runs illegal FM radio stations and organizes anti-polio shot campaigns, for the attacks in Swat. “Militant leader Maulvi Fazlullah has close links with the administration of the Lal Masjid and the provincial government is contemplating action against him,” Dawn reported. “The cleric, who had recently signed an agreement with the provincial government, in broadcasts on his FM channel on Tuesday and Wednesday, asked his supporters to take up arms against the government to avenge the action taken against Lal Masjid and carry out suicide attacks.”

The Pakistani government has surrendered the tribal agencies of Bajaur and North and South Waziristan in a series of “peace deals” over the past year, and much of the tribal agencies and settled districts are either openly under Taliban control, the government has unofficially surrendered areas to the Taliban (such as Bannu and Tank), or the areas are contested. The Pakistani government is sending the students of the Lal Masjid back to the hinterlands of Northwest Frontier Province, where they will be able to reinforce their brothers-in-arms.

See The Fall of the Northwest Frontier Province for more information of the deteriorating security situation.

Previous articles on the Red Mosque standoff:

Red Mosque cleric Abdul Aziz captured wearing burka

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

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Marlin says:

    Syed Saleem Shahzad and the Asia Times are not pro-American, but he can make keen observations from time to time. This one seems right to me.
    The Lal Masjid “movement” has steadily fallen into the hands of Islamic militants connected with the radical bases of the Taliban in the two Waziristans. In the past few months, brothers Ghazi and Aziz have lost a lot of their power, becoming more like puppets whose strings are in the hands of the students around them.
    Ghazi admitted to this correspondent two weeks ago that things were not in his hands and that if he ever tried to compromise with the government (as there was considerable pressure from the clergy around the country to do so), he and his brother would be killed by their students.
    Asia Times Online: Net closes on mosque – and Pakistan
    This seems especially true when the following quote is taken into account.
    Eventually I take advantage of a lull in the fighting to slip out the back of the complex to the street. Adeem [a student] leaves me at the gate. Eyes still blazing, she bids me farewell. “Tell them how angry we are,” she says. “Write in your story how willing we are to die for our cause.” It doesn’t sound like rhetoric any more. It sounds like a promise.
    Time: Believers Under Siege in Pakistan

  • davidp says:

    The men “would be released only after their record is checked for any criminal activities” and then given money so they can go home!
    Typical Pakistan – members of a rebel movement rewarded and allowed to escape to fight another day. They’ll come home as heroes of resistance. They should be sent to re-education camps in the south eastern desert, not allowed to rejoin the taliban in the north!

  • crosspatch says:

    “This seems especially true when the following quote is taken into account.”
    You raise a point that has bothered me for quite some time and that is the role that females have been playing in all of this. In more than one case I get the impression that it is often the women who are driving the extremism in the men and yet they are allowed to walk away.
    There must come a point where they are held as responsible for their aiding, abetting, and supporting role as are the men who actually carry out the acts.

  • RHYNO327 says:

    well, they will be crossing into a-stan any day now. this is typical Pakistan. Pervez has lost control, and the only way to bring order is through the military. even the army is full of t-ban sympathizers, and the ISI is behind a whole lot of this. P-stan is degenerating, this is the most dangerous country in the world. nuclear weapons+radical islam=TROUBLE. this is the worst thing to happen in decades. the islamo-facsists are hell bent on destroying the West, so the NATO members sitting this out best take a real good look. at that mosque, the saying “kill them all, God will know his own” couldn’t apply more. WAKE UP WEST!!

  • Tony says:

    Rhyno, when you say that nuclear weapons + Islamic radicals = trouble, you left out a critical part of the equation.
    That of course would be long range missiles capable of delivering them, which they have.
    Do these missiles have sufficient range to reach Baghdad?
    We really need to wake up here to the seriousness of the situation. I’ve been warning about this for decades. I fear it’s too late.
    We got rid of Saddam’s Scud missiles and Saddam himself. However, I always felt that the unmanageable situation in Pakistan was far more of a serious and grave danger to us and the planet.

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  • Kashif says:

    Government of Pakistan is more responsible for this bloodshed than the militants of Lal Masjid. How on earth were they able to store so much ammunition, trained militants and all, under the nose of dozens of security agencies in a place which is not far from President House. Why they were not crushed earlier? when they may be off guard.
    I believe that this issue is raised for (a) to divert media and public attention from on going political and judicial crisis in Pakistan and (b) to gain sympathies of West. As Musharraf wants to prove that his government is required at helm to keep the militants and terrorists at bay.
    While media attention is on Lal Masjid, nobody is complaining about the severe difficulties the innocent residents of that area are facing. Thousands are in siege due to lack of planning from government. Their power and water supply has been cut off and they are in dire need of food and medicine.
    It is also strange that ‘President’ of Pakistan is not appearing on media to take the nation in confidence on what’s going on in the capital.

  • pklo says:

    this nation is in shambles…too much pride and arrogance but no education or sacrificial spirit..its a joke! getting the hell out of this mess!


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