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.
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.
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.