ISLAMABAD: Eight “high value terrorists” wanted by Pakistan and other countries are holed up inside Lal Masjid, while another was killed by security forces in the ongoing operation, Religious Affairs Minister Ejazul Haq said on Sunday.
“Nine suspected terrorists said to be far more dangerous and harmful than Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives were hiding inside the mosque compound,” Haq told a press conference here. He refused to reveal the identities of these militants.
He said that security forces killed one of these suspected terrorists inside Lal Masjid on the second day of the ongoing operation. He was the mastermind of the failed suicide attack on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Attock in 2005, he said.
Haq said that the militants and not Abdul Rashid Ghazi, Lal Masjid’s deputy chief cleric, were controlling the mosque. “The militants are holding children and Ghazi hostage,” he said. He said that of those who had surrendered to the security forces, three girl students were still unclaimed. They were being kept at the Pakistan Sports Complex.
A curious and telling choice of words. In addition, Religious Affairs Minister Haq's claim that Ghazi is a hostage seems highly unlikely, unless, of course, he was prevented from following in his brother's footsteps and trying to escape in a burqa. Haq and many others may also be in denial that the problem could have roots in Pakistan, rather than being the work of outsiders.
He said that about 500 male and female students were still stranded inside the mosque. He also ruled out the government launching any action against other madrassas in Pakistan, including Jamia Faridia.
AFP adds: The hardcore militants inside include two commanders from the banned Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami, security officials said.
“We believe there are militants from Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami, which was involved in the [Daniel] Pearl murder. Based on intelligence we suspect that two commanders from the group are in there,” one senior official told AFP. “They have taken control and they are putting up fierce resistance.” The information was based on “intercepts” and other intelligence, the officials said.
A source inside the mosque said there was a “lot of tension among the various groups inside the compound on how to conduct the fight”. He identified one of the Harkatul-Jihad-e-Islami militants as Abu Zar, said to be a one-time accomplice of the group’s late leader Amjad Farooqi, who was killed by security forces in 2004.
He also named a Pakistani Taliban militant from Waziristan, Mohammad Fida, as the “security chief” of the compound. There was no official confirmation of the names.