Lal Masjid chief cleric gave vital clues to Pakistani forces


Islamabad : Vital clues provided by Lal Masjid's chief cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, arrested last week, helped Pakistani security forces when they stormed the mosque complex, it was reported Wednesday.

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Aziz had been caught while trying to flee the Lal Masjid complex in a burqa, along with a crowd of women and children. The information gleaned from him played a key role in tracking the network of militants inside the Lal Masjid premises, The News reported.

Chief military spokesman Waheed Arshad briefed the Pakistan cabinet Tuesday and said that Aziz had confessed "harbouring high value targets carrying head money in millions".

A cabinet source told the News that the ministers were briefed about the presence of foreign militants. They were also told how the Lal Masjid brigade used to operate and the number of tunnels dug under the complex.

According to the source, Aziz gave an overview of the people living inside, their strategic positions and the kind of militants supporting their cause.

Violent clashes between Pakistani forces and militants housed in the Lal Masjid began July 3 when a group of stick-wielding students attacked a police checkpoint adjacent to the mosque.

Radical students of the mosque's seminary had begun a standoff with the authorities in February over their efforts to impose a strict Islamic way of life on the citizens of Islamabad.

Pakistani security forces stormed the Lal Masjid complex early Tuesday after talks for the surrender of the militant clerics and their heavily armed supporters failed.

Sporadic explosions and gunfire continued at the Lal Masjid and the adjoining seminary Wednesday as Pakistani troops battled the last pockets of resistance by militants.

Official sources said more than 50 militants have been killed in the fierce fighting. Nine members of the security forces also died and 28 were wounded.