Reuters : Pakistan razes madrasa in militant mosque complex

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pakistan razes madrasa in militant mosque complex

By Zeeshan Haider | JulY 25, 2007

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities are demolishing a battle-scarred Islamic madrasa in Islamabad's Red Mosque complex, where scores of people were killed in an army assault this month, officials said on Wednesday.

Pakistan army commandos stormed the Lal Masjid or Red Mosque and adjoining Jamia Hafsa seminary for women on July 10, after followers of radical clerics running a Taliban-style movement from the complex refused to surrender.

Authorities say the government decided to raze the four-storey madrasa as its structure had been badly weakened by the fierce battles in the compound between security forces and the militants.

"We are demolishing the madrasa because technically it is very dangerous to sustain it," said Kamran Lashari, head of the city municipality.

"The demolition is going on and it will be completed in three to four days," he added.

However, the government had no plans to demolish the mosque, and it was being renovated to be reopened for prayers on Friday.

Lal Masjid had long been known as an Islamic radicals' stronghold, but hit international headlines this year when burqa-clad female students of Jamia Hafsa and male colleagues from the mosque complex launched an aggressive campaign to impose Taliban-style religious culture in Islamabad.

They kidnapped women they accused of involvement in prostitution, abducted police and attacked music shops.

They also seized a government library adjacent to the complex to press for their demands for reconstruction of mosques that had been illegally built on state land and subsequently demolished.

The government said 102 people were killed in eight days of fighting when security forces stormed the complex.

After the assault, President Pervez Musharraf, an important ally of the United States in its war on terror, vowed not to allow mosques or madrasas like the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa to be used to spread militancy.

The mosque's firebrand cleric, Abdul Aziz, was caught fleeing disguised as a woman in the early stages of the siege, while his younger brother and deputy, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was killed during the assault.

The government has appointed a soft-spoken cleric as the new imam of the mosque in what is seen as a move to neutralise radicals' influence.

The new cleric, Ashfaq Ahmed, said he supported the cause of his predecessors but differed with their strategy.

"Their demands for implementation of an Islamic system and reconstruction of demolished mosques were genuine and correct. But we differed with their line of action and that's why such a tragic incident has taken place," said the cleric, a graduate from an Islamic university in Saudi Arabia.

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