Pakistani army storms Red Mosque; Ghazi is killed

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Location of Lal Masjid, the Red Mosque, in Islamabad.

After failed last-minute negotiations, Pakistani troops have moved in to end the nearly one-week standoff at the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. There have been reports of an initial round of explosions early Tuesday morning (4:00 a.m. local time) followed by sounds of ongoing gunfire. As many as 1,800 clerics and followers had remained in the mosque.

"The militants are using small arms and grenades," said Major-General Waheed Arshad, a Pakistani military spokesman. "They are in the basement, we have covered the rooftop." According to Major-General Arshad, five Pakistani troops had been wounded in the military incursion. He expected the operation to be wrapped up in three or four hours.

Up until the latest military procedure, as many as 21 people had been killed in violence related to the standoff, which began a week ago when Pakistani forces first moved on the mosque.

Tensions had been rising between mosque clerics and the Pakistani government for the past few months as militants at the mosque led a movement, in Islamabad, pushing for implementation of sharia law. Tensions reached a peak when students of the mosque detained seven Chinese nationals that they alleged had been working in brothels.

Several people, including former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, intervened and tried to broker a deal to end the standoff. "I am returning very disappointed," said Hussain on his return from the mosque.

At least 50 militants and eight soldiers have been killed or injured as result of the military offensive. Abdul Rashid Ghazi's body has been found, according to interior ministry spokesperson, Javed Iqbal Cheema.

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