M A I N   N E W S

Backlash feared
Pak on alert as masjid cleared of militants

Islamabad, July 11
The Pakistan army today took full control of Lal Masjid after a 40-hour operation clearing the besieged mosque of the remaining militants while security was stepped up across the country to prevent any backlash from radicals.

“The first phase of the operation is over. There are no more militants left inside,” Army spokesman Maj Gen Washeed Arshad told mediapersons.

The mosque complex was being combed for mines, booby traps and other weaponry as troops battled the last handful of hardcore militants who were holed up in its basement. Eighty militants surrendered or were either captured while soldiers began collecting bodies, an army official said.

There was no clear picture on the death toll in the assault on the complex in which radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed but media reports said the number of dead militants could be up to 90, while 12 commandos lost their lives.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said no bodies of women or children had been found inside the mosque complex yet.

The ripples of the Lal Masjid crackdown were felt mostly in tribal areas of NWFP where a militant cleric Maulana Fazarullah, who is also relative of Ghazi, threatened to step up attacks against Pakistan military. Security was beefed up across the country, especially the major cities, the NWFP and PoK from where most of the students hailed.

President Gen Pervez Musharraf is to address the nation tomorrow.

The firebrand deputy administrator of the mosque, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was killed in a cross fire between militants and commandos yesterday after he was found holed up in one of the basements of the complex.

“Postmortem on Ghazi’s body has been done and it will now be flown to his ancestral village,” Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told mediapersons.

Ghazi’s elder brother Abdul Aziz would accompany the body and attend the funeral. Military operation had begun early Tuesday after talks between the government and Ghazi collapsed. — PTI, UNI



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