Pakistani forces early Thursday demolished the front walls of a radical mosque, where battles between security forces and students have raged for two days, intelligence and military sources told CNN.
More than 1,200 of the students have already surrendered, but hundreds more remain inside. Heavy gunfire from both sides, punctuated by loud explosions and the firing of tear gas, erupted shortly before 4 a.m. Thursday (7 p.m. Wednesday ET). The attack came hours after the mosque’s top cleric was arrested while trying to slip away wearing a traditional woman’s burqa. At least 24 people, including two members of the security forces and one journalist, have been killed in the two days of battles.
(Photo: A Pakistani radical opens fire on paramilitary gunmen during an assault on the Red Mosque).
From Yahoo! News:
A radical cleric captured by security forces while fleeing in a woman’s burqa (left) said Thursday that the nearly 1,000 followers still inside his government-besieged mosque in Pakistan’s capital should escape or surrender.
The comments by head cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid — who also said the people still inside would not be able to hold out for long — indicated that the tense standoff in the heart of Islamabad might soon end without further bloodshed.
Sugiero has a video of the transvestite cleric. It is of poor quality but worth seen.
“After all the things he has said and all the oaths he took from his students that they should embrace martyrdom with him, look at this man, he had to eventually try to run like a woman,” Azeem (Deputy Information Minister) told AFP.
More from BBC:
The government said more than 1,200 students had surrendered so far, and that their details were being recorded at a camp set up near the mosque.
Following the expiry of an 0900 local time (0500 GMT) deadline on Thursday, at least four more female students and one male student were seen giving themselves up.
Maryam Qayyeum, 15, one of those who surrendered, told the Associated Press news agency that those who were staying back in the mosque “only wanted martyrdom”.
Pakistani troops patrol near Lal Masjid or Red Mosque during a curfew in Islamabad July 5, 2007. Loud explosions were heard on Thursday from the vicinity of a radical Pakistani mosque being besieged by security forces but the cause was not immediately clear, witnesses said. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed
Small groups of radical students trickled out from Islamabad’s besieged Red Mosque on Thursday, despite warning blasts overnight, raising fears that hardcore militants were keeping some children as human shields.
UPDATE: More in Der Spiegel:
However, Colonel Masha Allah of the paramilitary forces at the scene said that some of the children who had already left had said they had been locked in a room.
A 12-year-old girl, who left the mosque on Thursday, said there were between 35 and 40 students of her age still inside. And a young woman who also left Thursday told Reuters she had seen four bodies in the mosque, two of which were girls.
[...] Abdul Aziz said that 14 men in the mosque had Kalashnikovs, but he asked those still there to give up peacefully. He said “if they can get out quietly they should go, or they can surrender if they want to.” Aziz was arrested Wednesday trying to flee the mosque in a woman’s burqa. He was spotted by a female police officer because of his height and large stomach. [=he was spotted because he was fat ].
Aziz, who was still dressed in the burqa he had used as a disguise during his interview, denied that his movement had links with al-Qaida, though he said his mosque had a “relationship of love and affection with all jihadist organizations.” [yeah, but thank God, you weren't brave enough to fight till the end eh?]
His brother, the mosque’s deputy head cleric, Abdul Rashid Gazi, is still inside the building. Speaking to Reuters by telephone on Thursday he said “We are not criminals. We are not terrorists that we should surrender. … We have said that we are ready for dialogue.”
“We are ready for dialoge”. Yeah, after a woman’s officer spotted you on a burqa… Don’t make me laugh.
This man, ehh, does he want a sex change operation? “relationship of love and affection with Jihadist organizations” and then he dressed himself as a woman…
Zapatero is going to be very happy at these news. Hmm, how progressive are those jihadis. They are going to love my Alliance of Civilizations…