By Griff Witte in the Washington Post:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 8 — Positions hardened in the standoff at the pro-Taliban Red Mosque on Saturday, as a peace effort collapsed amid a hail of gunfire and President Pervez Musharraf called on Islamic radicals hunkered down inside to surrender or face death.
The siege entered its fifth day Saturday, and there was no resolution in sight. Heavy exchanges of gunfire continued throughout the day, and the radicals appeared determined to continue fighting rather than lay down their weapons. The government, meanwhile, has refused to negotiate and has said it will accept nothing less than unconditional surrender.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, 43, a cleric who took over leadership of the mosque after the arrest of his brother earlier in the week, has said he and his followers want to be martyred. “I prefer to fight and prefer death instead of surrendering,” Ghazi said in an interview with the BBC. “Islamabad will become like Baghdad if the government commits aggression against the Red Mosque and kills me.”
In a separate interview with a local television station, Ghazi said more than 70 of his followers had already been killed, an assertion that could not be independently confirmed.
Early Sunday morning, the army said that a senior commando had been killed and another officer injured during intense fighting overnight. The commandos had been blasting holes in the perimeter wall to the compound to allow women and children inside a chance to escape.
The mosque is surrounded by several thousand heavily armed government commandos and rangers. The siege began Tuesday, after a vicious gun battle that left 19 people dead. Clerics at the Red Mosque, in a residential neighborhood in the heart of the normally tranquil capital, had been provoking the government for months with operations aimed at stamping out vice. Students from a madrassa, or religious school, affiliated with the mosque abducted police officers and alleged prostitutes, and they threatened music store owners with attacks.
The mosque standoff comes as Pakistan faces a growing threat from religious extremists, who have been moving eastward from the Afghan border in recent years.
Darn those extremists. They’re so … so … extreme.