Three killed in police-militant clash near Lal Masjid


Islamabad : Three people, including a soldier, were killed and at least a dozen others were injured as security forces and militant students exchanged fire at a besieged mosque in Islamabad on Tuesday.

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The intense gunfight occurred outside the heavily fortified Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, whose students entered a stand-off with authorities in February over the demolition of two illegal mosques in Islamabad.

The violent clash began around midday when a group of stick-wielding students attacked a police checkpoint set up adjacent to the mosque. The students seized four law enforcers and also snatched their rifles and a radio set, a senior police officer said.

In a retaliatory move a police-armoured personnel carrier fired several tear-gas shells at the mosque and its adjacent seminary, after which the heavily-armed students opened fire on the security forces.

"I can confirm that one of our troopers has been killed in the firing from inside the mosque," a senior officer of Pakistan Rangers, Masha Allah, told reporters outside the mosque.

A pupil of the Red Mosque died when he was shot in the forehead, DPA correspondent Nadeem Sarwar reported from the scene, while another was claimed dead by the mosque administration.

At least a dozen more also sustained bullet wounds.

Dozens of female students at the Jamia Hafsa seminary reportedly fainted due to use of tear gas by the police and were taken to hospital.

A cameraman associated with the CNBC-Pakistan news channel was hit by a high-calibre bullet and was taken to the hospital in a critical condition. A number of other journalists reporting from the scene also sustained injuries.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao denied launching a raid on the mosque and told the Geo News television channel that "the government does not want bloodshed." He also sought the custody of the gunmen who engaged the police personnel.

Amid gunfire, the undeterred masked students rampaged towards the building occupied by the paramilitary forces and set fire to two of them. A number of vehicles parked inside were also gutted in the blaze.

During the clash, clerics of the Red Mosque used loudspeakers to ask the students to take up their positions and prepare to carry out suicide attacks.

Security personnel barricaded all roads leading to the mosque complex and took up positions on rooftops of surrounding buildings, while armed students were also holed up in bunker-like structures made up of sandbags.