Pakistan's Red Mosque reopens after court order

Other News Materials 3 October 2007 16:54 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Pakistan's Red Mosque reopened on Wednesday nearly three months after a bloody military raid, with its deposed head urging thousands of supporters to continue his struggle for Islamic sharia law.

Around 5,000 people packed the mosque in central Islamabad to hear a recorded message by radical cleric Abdul Aziz, who was captured in July while trying to flee the building while dressed in a woman's burqa.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the government to open the mosque, which had been closed since government forces besieged and stormed the mosque in July, killing more than 100 people.

"Our movement for enforcement of Sharia has been stained with our blood and it must continue," Aziz said in the message.

"The problems of this country can only be overcome with Islamic law."

Aziz -- whose brother, the hardline cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was killed in the raid -- however called on the mosque's followers to remain peaceful as the mosque reopened for prayers.

His brother's family members attended the reopening.

Government troops stormed the radical mosque on July 10 after besieging Al-Qaeda militants holed up inside the building and a neighbouring girls' Islamic school.

It reopened briefly on July 27 but closed within hours after protesters reoccupied it and then a suicide blast targeting policemen near the complex killed 14 people.

But the Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the government to reopen it again after accepting a petition by Aziz's wife and others.

"The mosque is reopening today on the court's orders," Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema told AFP.

The leader of a hardline Islamic student movement that had campaigned for the mosque to reopen earlier said he had urged people not to cause trouble.

"We hope that police do not interfere and try to bully us, we will remain peaceful," Asif Dilawar Mahmood, the chief of Tehreek Tuleba-o-Talibat (Movement of Male and Female Students) told AFP.

"We are thankful to the Supreme Court for ordering the reopening."

The raid on the mosque sparked a wave of revenge suicide bombings and other attacks by Islamic extremists in Pakistan that have left nearly 300 people dead.

In a video released last month Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri warned that President Pervez Musharraf Musharraf would be "punished" over the killing of Ghazi.