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Cleric Ghazi, Scores Killed: Islamabad Red Mosque Operation in Decisive Phase
By Aziz Malik ‘Pakistan Times’ Federal Bureau Chief

ISLAMABAD: With the death of the deputy chief of Islamabad’s Lal [Red] mosque Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the operation silence has entered into a decisive phase as the troops fought daylong gun battles with the militants holed up in the mosque complex leaving scores dead in the operation on Tuesday.

The on- going Operation Clean up in the Mosque Complex would continue throughout night Tuesday and may terminate after the dawn today, Wednesday, said Director General ISPR Major General Arshad Waheed.

Giving update on the situation to media on Tuesday, he said that the southern part of the seminary had been cleared while the security forces are presently engaged in clearing up the area where the residential accommodation of Ghazi Abdul Rashid existed.

Spokesman of Ministry of Interior Brig (Retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema and Principal Information Officer Ch. Rashid Ahmed were present on the occasion.

Major Gen. Arshad Waheed said, the reports gathered from the scene have revealed that the figure of dead inside the complex would be higher than 50, however the confirm figure of dead and injured could only be given once the operation is over.

Meanwhile, he said so far eight personnel of security forces have embraced shahadat while 29 others sustained injuries during the day long intense operation.

Gen. Arshad Waheed said the level of retaliation from inside the complex was so intense and heavy that one could presume about the presence of the hard core militants.

Answering a question about the presence of foreign militants in the complex, he said, “this could only be confirmed after the operation is over and bodies and injured are removed from the scene.

He confirmed that the deputy cleric of Lal Mosque Ghazi Abdul Rashid has been killed during cross fire between the occupying militants of the seminary and the security forces.

He said the security forces during the clean up had confirmed the news.

Director General ISPR Major General Waheed Arshad Tuesday denied use of nerve gas during the Operation Silence at the Jamia Hafsa Complex.

He said the security forces were using only ‘stun grenades’ and light weapons during the operation.

He denied use of any heavy weapons including mortars and said the ‘stun grenades’ were being used to shock the militants holed up in the huge three-storey complex with over 75 rooms.

He said it was huge “haphazardly constructed” complex with numerous well fortified rooms from where they fought the security forces.

“They are very well armed, very well trained and well equipped and gave a tough resistance,” he said.

Director General ISPR said there was no confirmation yet about the presence of foreign militants at the Jamia Hafsa Complex.

General Arshad said “it is too early to say anything about the presence of foreign militants.”

He said the security forces were continuing the operation and it was not possible to determine the identity of those killed so for.

He said once the operation ends, the investigation about those killed would begin.

Massive blasts and gunfire rocked the Red Mosque for 16 hours, sending plumes of smoke billowing above the Islamabad city and raising fears about the fate of scores of women and children inside the complex.

The government said the death of Abdul Rashid Ghazi was a major setback to the rebels, some allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who fought with rocket-propelled grenades and sniped at soldiers from the minarets.

The cleric died "in a hail of bullets" after troops spotted him in the basement where he spent most of the day barricaded with some children and women, interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said.

"Ghazi came out with four or five militants who kept on firing at security forces. The troops responded and in the crossfire he was killed," Cheema said.

"It is a big blow to the extremist element in the country and a lesson for others."

Director General ISPR Major General Waheed Arshad said troops had secured 80 percent of the complex and were moving slowly as "the resistance is intense in the remaining area."

He said over 50 militants and eight soldiers were confirmed dead and at least 29 soldiers were wounded.

Around 60 women and children have so far emerged from the complex since the dawn assault was launched, but many more are still believed to be inside.

"The militants are using women and children as human shields," he added.

The militants had booby-trapped much of the compound and "have turned the mosque into a trench for them, they have violated the sanctity of the mosque," Gen Arshad said.

It was not clear how many militants or civilians were still inside. The government has spoken of 100 militants, and 300 to 400 women and children hostages. Mosque leaders had denied holding civilians as human shields and insisted all those in the compound were there voluntarily.

Fifty militants surrendered after they were given a final chance during a break in the fighting.

Some reports said that the wife and daughter of Abdul Aziz, Ghazi's brother and the official head of the mosque, who was captured trying to flee in a woman's burqa on Wednesday, were among a group of civilians freed.

A man who picked up one of the mobile phones belonging to Ghazi before his death said there were "dead bodies everywhere."

In one of his final calls, made to a private television channel shortly after the raid, Ghazi accused the government of being insincere in its efforts to resolve the crisis. More than 1,200 male and female students fled the mosque earlier in the standoff.

Minutes before the operation, top government negotiator Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a former Prime minister of Pakistan who is the chief of PML (Q) announced that 11 hours of negotiations with Ghazi had failed.

Street battles broke out on July 3 between police and the mosque's radical students, and it has been under a 24-hour shoot-on-sight curfew ever since.

Officials have said militant commanders are inside, including some from the extremist group Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami.

Details

An earlier report had said that security forces launched operation from three different directions against the militants holed up at Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa during the wee hours on Tuesday.

“Troops have entered into the madrassa from southern and western sides, and have also cleared a major portion of Lal Masjid as well,” Director General Inter Service Public Relations Maj. General Waheed Arshad told mediapersons shortly after the operation.

He had said militants were offering stiff resistance from the basements and washrooms of the mosque and presently intense engagement was underway in the madrassa.

He said militants were using small arms, grenades and petrol bombs against security forces.

“So far five security personnel have sustained injuries in the joint operation spearheaded by the special forces”.

To a question, he said it was a huge complex comprising of basements and a number of rooms and the operation may last for three to four hours.

He said every possible effort would be made to complete this operation as soon as possible with minimum casualties.

He said so far 25 students have managed to escape the compound since the start of operation. They have reached to the Rangers and were shifted to safe place.

Recap

As reported by Pakistan's first independent daily E-newspaper 'Pakistan Times' in its Tuesday edition, more than 40 militants and seven soldiers were reported killed in a clean-up operation on radical Lal [Red] mosque in the capital Islamabad in pre-dawn hours on Tuesday.

"It is a final push to clear the place of armed militants," said military spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad.

An update report said that more than 50 militants were killed in the operation, as loud explosions and gunfire were heard.

However, some reports say that 70 militants who were killed in the operation against Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa; three security officials also were reported to have lost their lives.

Loud explosions and gunfire were heard coming from the mosque area for several hours from early on Tuesday.

Gen Arshad said the security forces now control almost the entire mosque complex, which include a religious school (madrassa) for female students.

"There is still a significant area which has yet to be cleared. There is still resistance."

A large number of militants have been captured during the operation. Later a report said that about 50 militants had surrendered to government forces.

The duration of curfew in Sector G-6 has been increased. There are reports, 40 men have also been arrested from Jamia Hafsa.

The military operation began at about 0400 PST on Tuesday [23:00 GMT Monday].

The troops entered the compound and exchanged fire with the militants holed up inside.

While over 50 militants were killed and many others injured, medical officials said more than 20 government troops were injured, and three had died of their wounds after being taken to local hospitals.

It was reported that the security forces took over the building's roof. Yet, they met particularly strong resistance from militants in the basement.

Those inside the mosque used hand grenades, light machine guns, petrol bombs and other weapons.

However, all-out efforts were made to shift children, both male and female, who were students at the mosque complex to safer places instantly to ensure their security.

Another report had said that militants had been putting up resistance from the mosque minarets and a part of Jamia Hafsa is on fire now.

Some parts of Jamia Hafsa had also caught fire. And there were sounds of powerful blasts.

There are reports of casualties on both the sides and dozens others are injured.

According to some other reports, there are dead bodies and injured people found everywhere in Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid premises. More than hundred blasts have been heard.

Troops in Pakistan's capital city of Islamabad began an operation to storm the Red [Lal] Mosque, after talks with radicals there broke down.

"It is a final push to clear the place of armed militants," military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said.

Troops engaged in the operation were reported to have faced resistance from those who where lodging in the basement of the Red mosque complex.

General Waheed Arshad said that it was early to tell the exact figure of the causalities. It shall be made public; the moment the operation is over.

Earlier, the deputy cleric of the mosque Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi told a television channel just before his death that his mother had been hit by firing and had died.

He said that he was ready to hand-over the complex to the authorities, but after that matter was settled with a group of Ulema, the operation was launched.

While Ghazi was speaking to the television via phone a big bang of blast was heard, where after the telecom communication with the cleric went off abruptly. It was felt that either the cleric had switched off his phone or was hit by the operation which made him unable to speak.

However, some reports confirmed of severe scuffle inside the Lal [Red] mosque. At different stages, there was an eyeball-to-eyeball battle between the security forces and those living in the Red mosque as well as its' allied institutions.

There had been hopes that an agreement would be reached to end the stand-off.

But a government team abandoned their efforts early on Tuesday. "I am returning very disappointed," said former Prime Minister and PML (Q) Chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.

Reports said that several explosions were heard in vicinities around the mosque. The entire area remained covered by thick smoke after the launch of the operation, which was visible even in far off sectors.

While all roads were blocked in this area, the residents of the G-6 sector of Islamabad, where this mosque is located were advised not to go on their homes’ rooftops nor should they look outside from windows.

People were also advised not to come outside of their house and should stay away from coming into streets or roads.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had hoped to persuade those inside to give them selves up.

Reports say that students at the Red Mosque and its attached religious schools have been defying the authorities for several months in their campaign for Sharia law in the capital.

After initial explosions, there was intermittent gunfire around the mosque, reports say.

A large number of ambulances rushed between the Red Mosque and at different hospitals, taking the wounded for medical aid.

A state of emergency was declared at hospitals. An earlier report had said that 10 personnel of the security were brought injured to the PIMS, Islamabad’s largest medical complex.

Minister Ejaz-ul-Haq had said women and children had been locked up on two floors of the Jamia Hafsa religious school, which is attached to the mosque.

As many as five "hardcore terrorists" were inside the mosque, he added, saying that one person killed on the first day of the siege belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammad, an outlawed radical organisation.

Talks broke down over the militants' demand for an amnesty for all inside the mosque.●

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