Jaish-e-Mohammed behind Lal Masjid standoff: Musharraf


Islamabad : Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has said that banned militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), having links with Al Qaeda, is behind the current stand-off over the Lal Masjid siege.

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Security experts perceive Jaish-e-Mohammed as the principal terrorist organisation in Jammu and Kashmir.

The JEM's suicide bombers are "holed up" in the mosque, Musharraf said while speaking to the media Saturday after his address to the National Defence College here.

Musharraf said militants of JEM were hiding in the mosque. "They are indoctrinated people. There are also people associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad. They have explosives," he was quoted as saying.

"Many of them are ready to carry out suicide attacks," he added.

Musharraf said the government had tried to resolve the standoff through negotiations to avoid bloodshed in the sprawling mosque complex, which also houses a madrassa for girl students.

Musharraf told the media workshop that he addressed earlier that he had invited Imam-e-Kaaba, the highest priest of Islam, to intercede between the government and two brothers, Ghazi Abdur Rashid and Maulana Abdul Aziz, who are in control of Lal Masjid.

"Action is ready but timing is important," he said. "I am not a coward … but the issue is tomorrow you will say what have you done. There are women and children inside," he said.

Musharraf said extremism was the "gravest threat" to Pakistan and that would address the nation next week on measures to combat it. According to Pakistani media reports, the government had planned to evict girl students, holed up in the Lal Masjid complex since March, by sending women commandos. But the idea was given up in favour of negotiations.

However, talks by ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid) chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain have failed.

JEM, or The Army of Mohammed, is a major Islamist militant body with headquarters in Pakistan. It was formed in 1994 with the avowed aim of ending India's "occupation" of Jammu and Kashmir and has carried out numerous attacks.

The group was formed after the supporters of Maulana Masood Azhar split from another militant organisation, Harkut-ul-Mujahideen.

It is believed that the group gets considerable funding from Pakistani expatriates in the United Kingdom. The group is regarded as a terrorist organisation by several countries including India, United States and Britain.

Maulana Azhar was one of four militants released in 1999 when an Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan, then ruled by the Taliban. He was found to have returned to Pakistan to continue his activities.