Islamic hardliners mark Red Mosque operation anniversary
Thousands of hardline Islamists on Sunday
gathered in Pakistan's capital to commemorate the first anniversary of a
military operation against the extremists in the Red Mosque.
Dozens of religious leaders from across the country and more than 3,000 people, mostly students from Islamic seminaries, chanted "God is great" and "We want martyrdom" during the rally held outside the mosque known as Lal Masjid.
Around 4,000 policemen were deployed to guard the venue for the rally, named the "Red Mosque Martyr Conference."
The roads leading to the mosque were blocked with barbed wires for vehicles. Four walkthrough gates were installed and the participants were being checked with metal detectors.
The speakers blasted President Pervez Musharraf for ordering the violent July 10, 2007 operation.
"The Pharaoh of the age (Musharraf) killed thousands of our children whose only crime was that they were learning Quran," said Qazi Nisar, a radical cleric whose followers blocked the highway that connects Pakistan and China across KoraKoram Mountains for several days during the standoff a year ago.
"We will never forgive him for his atrocities against the innocent people," he added.
Security forces surrounded the mosque on July 3, 2007 following clashes between the police and the seminary students, who had abducted several women alleging them to be prostitutes and threatened music shop owners to give up the trade under an "anti-vice" campaign.
A week later military commandos stormed the mosque in a pre-dawn operation. According to the government 100 people, including 12 soldiers, were killed in the action. Abdul Rashid Ghazi, younger of the two radical brother clerics of the mosque, also died while fighting the troops.
The elder brother, Abdul Aziz, was arrested a few days before the final assault fleeing while disguised as a woman. He remains in police custody since then.
Supporters of Red Mosque extremists claim the real death toll was much higher, possibly in thousands.
The operation is considered a significant incident in the recent history of Islamic militancy in Pakistan, as it was followed by a series of suicide attacks on security forces which killed more than 3,000 people during the past year.
Though backed by Pakistani liberals, the mosque action remained highly unpopular among the general public and became one of the reasons for the defeat of Musharraf's political allies in February 18 elections.
Emotions were still running high a year later.
"Ghazi has won respect and honour by sacrificing his life for Islam, but his killers will continue hiding from people until the day of judgement," speaker Maulana Azizur Rehman told the rally.
He demanded the immediate release of Abdul Aziz and the rebuilding of the Islamic seminary, Jamia Hafsa, demolished by the government after the operation, dpa reported.