Blood at Lal Masjid
Islamabad, July 3
Unconfirmed reports, however, put the toll at 11 in the violence that started around 1.30 pm and continued till late in the evening between the students and the forces, which were deployed around the mosque last Friday.
Pakistan information minister Mohammad Ali Durrani confirmed the death of nine persons but ruled out the storming of the mosque tonight, which had been locked in a stand-off with the government for the past six months over the clerics’ campaign to impose strict Islamic law in the capital.
“Any such action could be taken only after a complete political consensus,” he said while ruling out the imposition of emergency in the wake of today’s violence.
Among those killed was a Pakistani Ranger and a TV cameraman while several journalists, including bureau chief of Geo TV Afsar Alam, were injured.
The trouble began when a bunch of girl students approached the Rangers’ picket and snatched a walkie-talkie, which was followed by firing by men students that claimed the life of one Ranger and injured five others, minister of state for information Tariq Azim said.
Maintaining that there was no raid by security forces, he said, “When the Rangers fired tear gas shells to tackle the situation, there was firing from inside the mosque, leading to more trouble”.
Armed with sticks and Kalashnikov rifles, the madarsa students rushed towards some of the pickets of the Rangers outside the mosque and took control of the streets.
The madarsa students tried to barge into a building housing security personnel, who were part of the 1500-strong contingent of Rangers and police commandos deployed outside the mosque since Friday, a government spokesman said.
The armed students attacked the buildings of Ministry of Environment and the National Safety Commission close to the mosque and torched vehicles. Hundreds of students stood in front of the mosque, shouting slogans of jihad.
Some students wearing gas masks were seen carrying rocket launchers on their shoulders to the pickets set up on the walls of the mosque.
The students have been indulging in Taliban-style moral policing, raiding music and video shops as well as massage parlours, abducting their employees and demanding their shutdown.
However, deputy of the Lal Masjid Abdul Rashid Ghazi accused the government of launching an operation against his mosque and seminary students without any provocation. “We had an agreement with the Islamabad administration to report to them all illegal activities but the security forces started operation,” he told reporters.
Ghazi said the confrontation with the government would continue till the security forces, deployed around the mosque after the militant students kept seven Chinese captive for 15 hours last month, “are completely withdrawn”.
He claimed that nearly 150 minor girls were injured in tear gas shelling, gunfire and the resulting stampede.
Amid the gunfire, repeated announcements were made through loudspeakers in the mosque that “jihad has been declared”. The chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, was heard asking the “suicide bombers” to take their positions.
After five hours of arson and firing, state-run PTV claimed that a “ceasefire” had been reached around 5 pm. However, after a brief lull, the gunbattles resumed.
A huge explosion in the midst of the clash and the jihad calls sparked fears of a suicide bomb attack but officials later attributed it to a gas cylinder explosion in a car that was torched by students.