Radical cleric’s supporters retake Lal Masjid in Pakistan


Islamabad : Hardline supporters of a detained radical cleric Friday took over the pro-Taliban Lal Masjid here – the scene of a deadly assault earlier in the month when government troops stormed the compound to flush out armed militants inside.

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The mosque reopened to the public three weeks after violent clashes erupted there between security forces and Islamic militants July 3, which climaxed with the July 10-11 commando assault that left over 100 people dead.

Islamists in the mosque's main hall turned the Friday mid-day prayers into an angry protest demonstration as soon as a cleric began to make the call to prayer at around 12:35 p.m. local time.

Some protesters flew Islamic flags after climbing onto the rooftop of the mosque that donned a new look with freshly plastered exterior, painted in a paler shade of white to replace the red from which the mosque drew its name.

They also started to repaint the mosque in its original colour while one of them inscribed "Lal Masjid" on its front face, as authorities had installed a roadside signboard identifying it as Central Mosque G-6, the code name of the neighbourhood.

Chanting slogans of jihad, they refused to offer the prayers led by a government-appointed cleric who replaced Lal Masjid's chief administrator, Maulana Abdul Aziz. The new cleric, Mohammad Ashfaq, was led out of the mosque safely.

The protesters and other worshippers were allowed entry into the mosque after being frisked by police, who had cordoned off all access points leading to the Lal Masjid.

But police retreated after the protest began.

Security forces were on high alert in Islamabad with intelligence reports of possible suicide bombings by militants.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in attacks on security forces since the mosque siege, with extremists calling to avenge the deaths of "innocent sisters, brothers and sons".