ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Islamic students seeking to impose tough religious social rules briefly kidnapped three more policemen Monday, officials said, intensifying a standoff that has troops out in force on the streets of Pakistan’s capital.
Students seized the policemen during a scuffle in northern Islamabad early Monday evening and took them to a nearby seminary affiliated with the city’s fundamentalist Red Mosque, said Zafar Iqbal, a senior police official.
He said the trio was released from the Jamia Faridia seminary about three hours later after authorities issued an ultimatum and began deploying 5,000 police and paramilitary officers for a possible raid on the seminary.
“They have freed our people, so there is no need for an operation now,” Iqbal said.
The students raised the stakes Friday by seizing two police officers, and the mosque’s firebrand prayer leader threatened to declare holy war against the government if security forces intervened.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told Geo television that authorities were “in contact” with the mosque’s administrators about the two still missing officers.
He denied the three policemen seized Monday were freed in exchange for any of the 45 students that he said had been detained over the standoff since Sunday.
Hundreds of male and female students from the mosque’s seminary in downtown Islamabad have recently carried out anti-vice campaigns in the relatively liberal capital, warning music shops and brothels to close.
Hugging could also pose a problem.
Wary of the potential for casualties in a pitched battle with hundreds of students, officials have said the use of force against the Red Mosque remained a last resort. Large numbers of security personnel, including trucks filled with helmeted
paramilitary rangers, have been visible around the city.
Several dozen masked students armed with sticks used tree branches to briefly block a road near the seminary in an upscale neighborhood Monday evening. They refused to speak with reporters.