President Musharraf's military forces stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad at 4am, clearing the ground floor rooms, and engaging students, clerics and supporters in raging gunfire.
Some 88 hardline students, clerics and supporters of radical cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, are believed to have been killed, along with twelve commanders of Musharraf's military, according to news service PTI.
43 year old Ghazi was the younger brother of Maulana Abdul Aziz, the former head of the mosque, who was captured last week trying to escape the mosque dressed as a woman.
The standoff began last Tuesday, when more than 1800 refused to leave the mosque, after a number of students were arrested for attacking prostitutes and destroying music stories. The hardliners of the mosque were trying to establish a Taliban-like control over the local community, most of whom resisted.
Ghazi, who led the stand-off over the weekend and demanded he and his followers be allowed to walk out of the mosque and return their homes unmolested, was reportedly cornered in the basement of the complex. Surrounded by supporters, Ghazi refused to surrender, declared he wanted to die a martyr and Musharraf's military obliged.
While the radical clerics of the Red Mosque, and their followers, who wanted to live under Sharia law, did not have majority support amongst Pakistan's population, there was a popular view that the way President Musharraf would choose to end the stand off would act as a warning to all who decided to oppose, or defy, his military dictatorship.
Most Pakistanis, according to locally published polling late last week, wanted the siege to end with negotiations, or a voluntary surrender. Few wanted to have the news of a mass slaughter at a mosque, full of clerics, teachers and students, some as young as 14 years old, broadcast to the world.
From Forbes :
Pakistani troops were flushing out holdouts entrenched inside a women's religious school, taking control of the sprawling Red Mosque room by room in fighting that left about 50 militants and eight soldiers dead, the army said. State-run television said Pakistani troops had killed the head of the besieged mosque.President Musharraf is unlikely to benefit from the bloodshed, and the death toll will cause him great political turmoil, and will incite unrest amongst Pakistan's millions of Islamists.
Commandos stormed the sprawling mosque compound before dawn. Twelve hours later, the army said the complex was 80 percent cleared of militants but it was still trying to root out well-armed defenders the government accuses of holding a number of hostages. A local relief agency said the army asked for 400 white funeral shrouds.
The extremists had been using the mosque as a base to send out radicalized students to enforce their version of Islamic morality, including abducting alleged prostitutes and trying to "re-educate" them at the mosque.
Khalid Pervez, the city's top administrator, said as many as 50 women were the first to be freed by the militants and had emerged from the complex following the escape of 26 children.
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