>You must all get training for jihad because it is binding on every Muslim, just like prayers and fasting.
— Inayat-ur Rehman, mujahedin commander, statement made to tribesmen near Khar, Pakistan, July 9, 2007
Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans. Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others. Ours is a country based upon tolerance and we welcome people of all faiths in America.
— US President George W. Bush, statement made to reporters during meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in The Oval Office, Washington, DC; November 13, 2002
Militant Islam, President Bush’s so-called religion of peace, is on the move throughout Asia and Africa. The two quotes above demonstrate that the Bush Administration’s assessment of the threat of Islam is either delusional or dishonest. I suspect the latter.
In January 2007 the Islamic Courts Union, which seized power in Mogadishu seven months before, was routed by the neo-communist Transitional Federal Government of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, with the moral support of the African Union and the military support of Ethiopia and the USA.
Unlike anarchic Somalia, Pakistan is an “Islamic republic” in name only. However, the prospect of an Islamist coup against the nuke-tipped military regime in Islamabad is truly frightening. While terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda possess flexibility and invisibility, a state actor under the control of Al Qaeda would possess far more firepower.
In an effort to preempt his radical Islamist opponents, who insist upon imposing a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign upon Pakistan, on July 2 President General Pervez Musharraf ordered the siege of the Red Mosque, which orchestrated the kidnapping of six Chinese prostitutes. The mosque is currently being defended by Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami and sympathetic students. Founded in 1980 to resist the Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan, this Al Qaeda-linked terrorist organization is allegedly responsible for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. Daniel’s captors used his Jewishness as a rationale for his beheading. Pakistan’s prophets of the “Global Caliphate” are now using the latest government action as a pretext to push for Musharraf’s ouster.
Pictured above: Pakistani soldiers impose a curfew near the Red Mosque in Islamabad, July 8. On the same day, the sixth of the mosque siege, a senior Pakistani army commando was shot dead by the Al Qaeda-linked militants.
Cleric: 70 Killed at Pakistan Mosque
Jul 7 06:00 AM US/Eastern
By ZARAR KHAN
Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) The top cleric at a besieged mosque in Pakistan’s capital accused security forces on Saturday of killing more than 70 of his students but said he and his supporters preferred martyrdom to capture.
Explosions and intense gunfire continued into Saturday as thousands of troops ringing Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, attempted to end a five-day standoff but held back from an all-out assault.
Although the government says only 19 people have died since Tuesday, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the mosque’s defiant cleric, told the local Geo TV channel that more than 70 of his students had been slain by government gunfire.”
There are 70 to 80 bodies of our students,” he said, a claim that could not be independently verified.
The siege has added to the woes of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who faces a gathering storm of domestic Islamic extremism as well as a popular backlash from his bungled attempt at firing the country’s chief justice.
Authorities on Saturday were investigating what may have been the fourth attempt on his life.
Shots rang out as Musharraf took off from a military base near the capital Friday morning, apparently fired from a neighborhood directly under the flight path, officials and witnesses said.
There have already been three attempts to assassinate Musharraf since his decision to side with the United States in its war on terror.
It was not clear whether the incident was linked to the siege, but radical Islamic groups have staged daily street protests throughout the standoff.
Troops surrounded the mosque and an adjoining women’s seminary on Tuesday after deadly clashes between government security forces and Islamic students who have sought to impose Taliban-style rule in the city.
Militant students had streamed out of the mosque to confront security forces deployed there following the kidnapping of six alleged Chinese prostitutes. The brief abduction, which drew a protest from Beijing, was the latest of provocations by the mosque stretching back six months.
While more than 1,200 people, mainly students from the mosque’s two Islamic schools, have fled the complex, officials say up to 100 armed militants and an unknown number of students remain inside.
Ghazi, who has sought safe passage for himself and his followers, reiterated Saturday that he would not surrender.
“We are ready to lay down arms, but we should not be arrested,” he said, adding, “We are ready to be martyred.”
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao rejected those terms, insisting that Ghazi would have to face the courts.
Security officials deployed near the mosque said they were continuing to demolish sections of the mosque’s perimeter. A dozen loud explosions rocked the area Saturday, and gunfire rang out as a delegation of clerics headed towards the mosque in hopes of persuading Ghazi to surrender.
Syed Bilal, one of the delegates, told reporters that Ghazi was ready to meet with them but that security officials had stopped them from going inside because of the intense gunfire.
After Bilal insisted on going inside the mosque, police pushed him into a car and sped away, said Samia Qazi, a lawmaker at the scene. She condemned the police action, saying the government was trying to avoid giving clerics a role in ending the siege.
Several female lawmakers from extremist parties rallied near the Parliament building Saturday, urging the government to hold talks with Ghazi to peacefully resolve the standoff. They also asked that women and children be allowed to leave the mosque.
Before dawn, police seized control of one of Ghazi’s seminaries in another area of Islamabad.
Following at least three failed assassination plots against President Musharraf–whose support for the War on Terror is only nominal since Pakistan is closely allied with China, which protested the abduction of its sex trade workers in Islamabad–Islamic militants again attempted to eliminate the despised general.
Musharraf’s Plane Fired Upon as Mosque Standoff Continues
By SALMAN MASOOD and CARLOTTA GALL
July 7, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 6 — A burst of gunfire went off as President Pervez Musharraf’s plane took off Friday morning from an airfield in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, near the capital, as the government’s siege of a militant mosque entered its fourth day.
Security officials said they recovered two antiaircraft guns and one submachine gun with a telescopic sight from the rooftop of a house barely a mile from the airport where the shooting had apparently taken place. It was not immediately clear if there was a link between the shooting and the siege at the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, complex in the heart of the capital, where the leader of the rebellion vowed to fight to the death. But the gunfire was a reminder of the presence of militants across many districts, as were two roadside bombs that exploded in northwestern Pakistan, one of them killing four soldiers and critically wounding a fifth.
Pakistani officials denied that the president’s plane had come under fire or that a rocket had been fired. “At the moment there does not appear to be any linkage between the incident and the president’s flight to Turbat,” General Musharraf’s destination in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, a government statement said. The president arrived safely to inspect relief efforts for thousands of people affected by catastrophic floods across that region.
Residents living near where the shooting occurred said they heard a loud bang around 10 a.m. Soon after the gunfire, which lasted less than three minutes, two men chanting “God is great” pulled away on a motorbike, said Muhammad Ali, 19, a student who lived nearby.
Pakistani military officers, along with intelligence officials, cordoned off the house, which is located on a dead-end street, and three military sniffing dogs were brought in. Syed Kamal Shah, the interior secretary, said the antiaircraft guns had not been fired and the matter was under investigation.
The siege of the mosque, where several hundred students and militants remain holed up, seemed to be entering a more tense period after the government rejected the conditions for surrender offered Thursday evening by the leading cleric, Abdur Rashid Ghazi. “We will not surrender,” Mr. Ghazi told GEO television, an independent channel. “We will be martyred, but we will not surrender. We are more determined now.”
The mood inside the mosque has grown more dangerous, said Tariq Azim Khan, minister of state for information and broadcasting. People inside appeared more determined and were using heavier weapons, he said.
Mr. Khan said the government had learned from one of the students who surrendered that land mines had been laid inside the complex. Although it was not clear if the information was true, it made things more dangerous, he said. Militants also fired a rocket from inside the mosque complex at an armored personnel carrier. It damaged the vehicle, and one soldier received minor injuries, Mr. Khan said.
Ten parents tried to go to the complex to get their children, as many have in previous days, but were fired upon by the militants, officials said. One father was shot in his leg. Two students who were among a group who tried to escape from the mosque were shot and killed in cross-fire when shooting erupted around them.
Nevertheless, another hundred students have come out of the mosque and surrendered in the past 24 hours, Pakistani officials said. A total of 1,221 students had left by Friday evening.
“Among them, 795 are male students while 426 female students,” Mr. Shah, the interior minister, said at a news briefing in Islamabad, adding that the death toll remained at 19, according to hospital figures. “If there are any bodies inside, we have no information,” he said.
Officials urged the militants to hand over the wounded and sick to the medics while offering to send ambulances.
Muhammad Ali Durrani, the Pakistani information minister, urged Mr. Ghazi, the cleric, to surrender and give up arms. “This problem can be solved in half an hour if he hands over the females and children,” Mr. Durrani said.
Mr. Shah, echoed the remarks. “It is their moral obligation to let children and female students come out rather than using them as human shield,” he said.
Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.
Source: New York Times
Meanwhile, the Israeli media reports that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom the general removed from power in 1999, is calling for the resignation of Musharraf: “He must quit, otherwise the nation of 160 million people of Pakistan will force him to step down.” The general’s opponents among Pakistan’s tribesmen are also agitating for his removal. RTT News reports that on July 9 20,000 tribesman rallied near Khar, vowing to take revenge against President Musharraf. Protestors armed with Russian-made Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers shouted “We are ready for jihad,” “Death to Musharraf,” “Death to America,” and “Those who are friends of America are traitors.” Militant commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammed addressed the protestors: “We beg Allah to destroy Musharraf and we will seek revenge for the atrocities committed at the Red Mosque. Musharraf should immediately end his atrocity against the mosque.” Mohammed boasts connections with a madrassa, or Islamic religious school, that was bombed by Pakistani forces in October 2006. Eighty people perished in that incident. Another mujahedin commander, Inayat-ur Rehman, instructed the tribesmen: “You must all get training for jihad because it is binding on every Muslim, just like prayers and fasting.”
Clashes between Red Mosque defenders and security forces, as the article below reports, continued yesterday.
Pakistani commando killed by mosque militants
AFPJuly 8, 2007
ISLAMABAD Islamic militants led by an Al Qaeda-linked group shot dead a senior Pakistani army commando Sunday during fierce clashes with troops on the sixth day of a siege at an Islamabad mosque.
The military said Colonel Haroon Islam died after an operation to blast through part of the wall surrounding the fortified Red Mosque complex, to free some of the women and children allegedly being used as human shields.
Chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said another army officer was injured in the fighting with the Islamists led by firebrand cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi.
“Rashid Ghazi and his militants were responsible for the murder of a senior army officer,” information minister Mohammad Ali Durrani said. “The operation will continue and Ghazi has to surrender.”
President Pervez Musharraf has warned the militants to give up or be killed. The military ruler also told the hard-line students late Saturday to immediately free all women and children.
“I request these people to come out and surrender, and I say this, here: that they will be killed if they do not surrender,” Musharraf, wearing his army uniform, told reporters in his first public comments on the confrontation.
Pakistani forces have held back from raiding the now bullet-pocked mosque, but there have been intense clashes around the perimeter, including early Sunday when giant blasts echoed around the city.
Ghazi told local television that 335 people inside the mosque were killed in Sunday’s latest fighting, but Durrani dismissed the claim, saying that only the soldier died, and putting the toll for the entire siege at 20. Concerns for women and children in the mosque grew after security officials said militants from a group linked to Al Qaeda and to the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl were now leading the mosque fighters.
“We believe there are militants from Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami, which was involved in the Pearl murder. Based on intelligence, we suspect that two commanders from the group are in there,” one senior official said.
“They have taken control and they are putting up fierce resistance.”
Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami provided shelter for Al Qaeda militants who fled Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. It has been linked to Pearl’s 2002 beheading and a 2003 attempt to assassinate Musharraf.
“There are fears that the militants may start killing women and children inside, and then blame it on the government. They know they have no escape route,” a government official said on condition of anonymity.
Those inside the compound who wished to leave risked being shot by hard-line students if they attempted to climb the wall, which is 2.1 to 2.4 meters (seven to eight feet) high, officials said.
Ghazi said he and his followers had enough rations, arms, and ammunition inside the compound to “fight for another 25 to 30 days, and we will do that, God-willing.”
Ghazi, 43, also signaled his defiance by saying that he was telephoned by a man who claimed to have shot at Musharraf’s aircraft Friday in revenge for the siege.
Security officials said earlier they were probing possible links between the mosque operation and the failed bid to shoot down the president’s plane as it took off from Chaklala military airbase at Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.
Students affiliated to the mosque have irked the government since January with a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign, which has involved the abduction of several people they linked to prostitution, including seven Chinese.
Musharraf’s tough stance has boosted his popularity after months of being embroiled in a crisis over his suspension of Pakistan’s chief justice, but he is now under pressure to end the six-day mosque siege.
Source: Middle East Times