Pakistan releases Red Mosque leader who led insurrection in capital

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

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has released the leader of the radical mosque and seminary who attempted to impose sharia, or Islamic law, in the capital Islamabad and whose followers battled security forces during the summer of 2007.

Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of the radical Lal Masjid, or the Red Mosque, was released from house arrest on $2,500 bail, Geo News reported.

Aziz was detained by Pakistani security forces during the siege of the Red Mosque in July 2007. He was captured while dressed in a burka. He used the disguise in an attempt to elude security forces.

Abdul Aziz after he was captured while wearing a burka. Click to view.

The Pakistani government, under former President Pervez Musharraf, launched an assault on the Red Mosque after Aziz and his brother Ghazi Abdul Rasheed attempted to establish an Islamic mini-state in the heart of Islamabad.

The Lal Masjid showdown intensified at the end of March, when Aziz gave the government seven days to impose sharia law. Aziz established sharia courts and sent out his brigade of the burka-clad, baton-wielding female students as enforcement squads. Aziz decreed the brigade can now enforce sharia and attack CD and video shops in the capital. Ghazi and Aziz’s followers occupied buildings surrounding the Red Mosque complex, beat so-called prostitutes, and kidnapped civilians and police officers.

The baton-wielding, burka-clad, sharia-enforcing women of the Lal Masjid Brigade. Click to view.

In the beginning of July, the situation came to a head after Musharraf ordered police, paramilitary Rangers, and the elite 111 Brigade of the Pakistani Army to surround the Red Mosque complex. Clashes between Aziz and Ghazi’s followers and security forces quickly ensued, and the Islamists opened fire at the security personnel. Aziz threatened to launch suicide bombers.

Security forces stormed the Red Mosque complex after heavy fighting on the streets in Islamabad. Eleven security personnel and more than 100 students were killed during the operation. Ghazi was among those killed. Several hundred followers of the Red Mosque were detained, but quickly released. Aziz was the last person related to the insurrection in custody before his release.

Islamists repaint the dome of the Red Mosque after retaking control of the complex just weeks after the government assault in July 2007. Click to view.

Just months after the assault on the Red Mosque, Islamists retook control of the complex. That same day, a suicide attack was launched in Islamabad.

The Red Mosque became a symbol of resistance for Pakistan’s Taliban movement. The Taliban insurgency, which was well underway in early 2006, intensified. Suicide attacks were launched throughout Pakistan as Taliban fighters stepped up attacks on security forces in the northwest.

Ghazi and Aziz had strong links to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied Islamist terror movements. The clerics 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 clerics had personal contact with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Ghazi and Aziz were also very close to 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). After the assault in Islamabad, Khalid’s followers took over a revered shrine in Mohmand and renamed it the Red Mosque.

The Pakistani government then proceeded to negotiate peace agreements with Sufi, Faqir, Fazlullah, and Khalid, as well as with other Taliban leaders in northwestern Pakistan despite the growing Taliban insurgency and the explosion of suicide attacks throughout the country.

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

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  • David Steven says:

    Probably not a good headline. “Pakistan releases…” As the copy makes clear, it was the Supreme Court that ordered the release.
    So did the government support/oppose the bail? Is this action from a newly assertive Court – now its Chief Justice is back in charge – or part of a government-inspired deal?
    I’d guess the former but it would be good to know.

  • Spooky says:

    Its troubling that the Chowdury Court is doing this. Apart from the bail, was there any reasoning given behind the decision? Because right now all I can consider is that he’s blindly reversing ALL of Musharraf’s decisions during his dictatorship. Either that or horse-trading.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Hi David,
    We’ll have to agree to disagree. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is an arm of the government, it has the authority to release Aziz, and did, so “Pakistan” did release Aziz. If the Zardari government decides to throw him back into his “house arrest” then perhaps the title might be inaccurate. But until that happens (and don’t hold your breath) the headline is indeed accurate.

  • David Steven says:

    Sorry – didn’t mean to sound critical.
    Just as Pakistan is an *especially* slippery entity these days – it’s getting increasingly important to work out which part of the system is doing what.
    As you say, it’ll be very interesting to see how this plays out…

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Hi David,
    Not taken as criticism at all. Your point is well taken. As another point, I did state in the article that the SC did release Aziz. But I should have updated the front page ‘tease’ – which I have just done.
    And I should be clear about this: it can be difficult to craft a title that doesn’t read like a run-on sentence. After doing this for several years, I can appreciate why newspapers hire people to specifically write titles…
    Best wishes,

  • Rene says:

    This does not bode well. It should be obvious what kind of game Pakistan is playing.

  • davidp says:

    Had the Pakistani government actually moved ahead on prosecuting Aziz, or were they yet again treating arrest and charging as sufficient ? The Supreme Court has, correctly in my opinion, been releasing people who the government has not prosecuted. The error in those cases is in the government acting like a despotic power that can lock people up on its word, rather than a law abiding one.

  • Minnor says:

    Now that Aziz released, taliban left with no issue to fight against Pak govt., and political support for fight should wane. Right? You never know.

  • bard207 says:

    Now that Aziz released, taliban left with no issue to fight against Pak govt., and political support for fight should wane. Right? You never know.
    I don’t remember Aziz as being a key issue for the Taliban. Control of Pakistan and implementation of Shariah (their version) seem to be the announced goals.
    and political support for fight should wane. Right?
    Political support from what leaders or parties?
    How much is support and how much is fear is debatable.

  • Mr T says:

    Hmm.. led a revolt and got less than 2 years of “house arrest”. What a country.

  • Minnor says:

    @bard207, i learnt from wiki article ‘war in nw pak’ that Lal mosque Aziz issue sparked widespread attacks against security forces. Pak Taliban has 10% local political support for their struggle, maybe even local police support.

  • Max says:

    Another glowering mullah is released to create mayhem and murder. How wonderful.


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