Two feared killed in police militant clash near Lal Masjid


Islamabad : A Pakistani Ranger and a student were feared killed and scores injured in clashes between security forces and radical students at the Lal Masjid in the heart of Pakistan's capital Tuesday afternoon, according to media reports.

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The chief cleric of the mosque Maulana Abdul Aziz called for a "jihad" (holy war) against the government. Clerics at the mosque have been campaigning for observance of stricter Islamic laws in the capital.

The clashes reportedly started when a large group of women students from Jamia Hafsa – a seminary attached to the mosque – marched out of the mosque complex and confronted the security forces barricading them in. The girls – who have been ensconced in the library complex of their seminary for the last six months – were chanting slogans in support of Jihad, television channels reported.

The number of security forces around the mosque complex had been increased on Monday and Tuesday morning, till there were about 1,500 of them according to media reports.

Officials said many of the girls were armed. They have been part of the group holding out against the government for the past six months.

Reports say police fired teargas shells and that students fired gunshots from in and around the mosque complex. It is not clear who fired first.

Eyewitnesses told television channels that around 50 students were injured by teargas shells. Eight of the women students involved in the clashes were carried to the hospital, other eyewitnesses told The News.

Colonel Mashallah of the paramilitary forces confirmed the death of one Ranger and injury to two others. The injured rangers were taken to hospital. There were unconfirmed reports that the men had suffered gunshot wounds.

All hospitals in the capital have been put on maximum alert. Shops around the complex were closed down quickly after news of the clash spread. There was considerable tension all over the capital as other students sympathetic to those inside Lal Masjid took out processions and surrounded neighbourhoods where many bureaucrats and politicians live.

There were huge traffic jams as people tried to flee the area where the clashes were taking place. In the afternoon, police blocked access to all roads leading to the complex.

Federal Minister of Interior Aftab Sherpao has demanded that the mosque administration hand over the persons involved in the firing at the security forces. Talking to Geo News, he said the government did not want bloodshed but would not tolerate "such incidents of lawlessness".

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had said last week that members of the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has links with the Al Qaeda, were ensconced in the mosque complex and that they were armed with explosives.

At that time, Musharraf had said he was not moving against the militants and radical clerics because he wanted "to avoid bloodshed of the innocents". But his hands appeared to have been forced Tuesday when the girl students confronted security forces.

Musharraf had held a meeting Monday with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, other ministers and officials to review the situation in the country.