50 suspected militants die in fierce fighting with Pakistan’s security forces
ISLAMABAD: Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the Islamist cleric who led Lal Masjid’s confrontation with the Pakistan Government, and 50 other suspected militants were killed in fierce fighting during an all-out strike on the mosque by the security forces that began early on Tuesday and was continuing late into the night.
Military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said eight security forces personnel, including an Army Captain, were killed and 29 wounded. He said the operation would continue overnight, as a few parts of the complex, including the residential quarters of Ghazi, still had to be cleared.
Operation Silence began minutes after a 13-member government delegation, which met Ghazi and made a last-ditch effort to negotiate fresh terms of surrender, announced that the talks had failed. Heavy explosions and intermittent gunfire rocked the capital.
Maj.Gen. Arshad said 50 people were arrested as they were trying to escape from the mosque when the operation began. At least 27 children and women, including Umme Hassan, Ghazi’s wife and principal of the Jamia Hafsa seminary, gave themselves up.
Interior Secretary Syed Kamal Shah announced that Ghazi was killed in the “crossfire” when the security forces were clearing a basement in the Jamia Hafsa, which adjoins the Lal Masjid compound. Officials said the bodies of Ghazi and others were still inside the complex.
Gen. Arshad said the reported presence of foreign militants inside the mosque could be confirmed only after the bodies were found.
The spokesman initially said the operation would take “four hours.” However, as the day wore on, he said it would be a “slow operation.”
He said the security forces were adopting a “step-by-step approach” as scores of women and children were feared trapped in one of the basement rooms.
The militants were “well armed and well trained.” “They are using all kinds of weapons like rocket launchers, grenades and small arms, and are offering a lot of resistance … They are fighting room to room, and have taken position on the minarets of the mosque also.”