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8 militants fleeing Lal Masjid held

Religious students sit after their surrender outside the Red Mosque in Islamabad
Religious students sit after their surrender outside the Red Mosque in Islamabad on Thursday. — Reuters photo

Islamabad, July 5
Eight hardcore militants were arrested today while trying to escape from the besieged Lal Masjid as Pakistan army stepped up the offensive to flush them out from the seminary by resorting to selective bombardment using helicopter gunships which damaged its gates and walls.

As the authorities made frequent appeals to those holed up in the mosque-cum-seminary to surrender and extended deadlines, interior minister Aftab Sherpao said about 50 to 60 heavily armed militants were keeping women and children as human shields.

"They have AK-47s, grenades and petrol bombs. They are keeping women and children who want to come out of the mosque," he said.

While the Army resorted to selective bombardment of the masjid and its madrassas damaging their walls and gates by firing mortar shells, three US-made Cobra helicopter gunships made repeated sorties for surveillance and firing teargas into the complex to flush the militants out.

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, brother of head cleric Abdul Aziz arrested last night while trying to flee donning a burqa, was said to be in command of the seminary.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said Ghazi and other militants had no option but to unconditionally surrender before the law enforcing agencies.

With their hands tied behind their backs, the blindfolded militants were moved to a van near a government building.

Aziz was today slapped with charges of terrorism, abduction of six Chinese women and possession of illegal arms and was remanded to seven days police custody. His daughter, arrested with him last night, was also sent to police custody for a week.

Cheema said that 1,146 students have come out and surrendered before the law enforcing agencies so far - 745 male and 401 females. He said that females are being sent to Haji Camp.

He said the government would take responsibility of widows and orphans and bear their expenses, adding the Prime Minister has also issued special directives in this regard.

Conditions rejected

Meanwhile, a leading cleric holed up in the besieged masjid offered to surrender but the Pakistan Government rejected the overture.

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the deputy leader of the mosque and brother of captured head of the mosque Maulana Abdul Aziz, said he was willing to hand over the shrine and its affiliated Islamic schools to a government department for religious buildings.

"I am making this offer to save the lives of the students," Ghazi told Geo TV.

"I want to stay in one of the houses behind the mosque compound with my mother who is sick and with the wife of my brother until I get an alternate place to move to," he said.

Pakistan's deputy information minister Tariz Azeem rejected the offer and accused him of using his mother as a bargaining chip.

"The time for rhetoric is over, it is time for action," Azeem was quoted as saying by AFP. — PTI

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Chief cleric remanded
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

Chief cleric of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz was produced today before an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi which remanded him in police custody for seven days for interrogation.

The police has registered seven cases against Aziz under anti-terrorism laws on various charges including incitement to violence, kidnapping of Chinese girls working in a massage centre and kidnapping of policemen.

Aziz was arrested yesterday while he was trying to flee in the guise of a woman fully clad in ‘burqa’. He tried to file pass the police search check post outside the mosque along with a group of five other girl students while taking advantage of the offer by the authorities to give up the fight.

It was an amateurish attempt because security forces, who had not only sealed the mosque and set up scanners for the inmates of Lal Masjid, were also doing body search of everyone who surrendered to them. Policewomen easily discovered Aziz.

The cleric later told PTV in an interview that the girls students of the Jamia Hafsa seminary attached to the mosque had acted on their own against the massage centres.

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