ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Sporadic gunfire and explosions could be heard Wednesday from Islamabad’s Red Mosque as a Pakistani military operation to seize the complex, which has left over 60 people dead, entered a second day.
The army said it had taken control of 80 percent of the compound and was battling die-hard Islamist fighters holed up in basement rooms who were using women and
children as human shields.
The military has said over 55 militants and eight soldiers have died in 24 hours of fierce fighting at the mosque. However little is known about the fate of the women and children, amid growing fears about their fate.
The leader of the uprising at the pro-Taliban mosque, firebrand cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was killed late Tuesday in a major setback for the rebels who allegedly include militants linked to Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
President Pervez Musharraf ordered the assault after negotiations to end an eight-day siege at the complex, which itself left 24 people dead, collapsed. However the army has been surprised by the level of resistance.
Minister of State for Information Tariq Azeem said the intense fighting from fighters using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades showed the mosque had been infiltrated by hard-core Islamic radicals.
“The way they resisted, the way they engaged our troops, our best trained army
for 16-17 hours shows they were trained fighters,” he told a news conference late on Tuesday night.