The captured chief cleric of a militant mosque led the funeral for his slain brother Thursday and predicted that the deaths of the mosque’s defenders in an army raid would push Pakistan toward an “Islamic revolution.”
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, meanwhile, vowed in a nationally televised address that he would crush extremists throughout Pakistan and move against religious schools, like those at the Red Mosque, that breed them.
Musharraf also said that within the next six months, security forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border would be equipped with modern weaponry, including tanks, to bolster a counterterrorism push.
“Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan. But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists,” he said. “Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country.”
The crackdown on the Red Mosque has raised Musharraf’s standing among moderates and foreign backers worried about rising extremism in Pakistan. But it has given hard-liners a rallying point, as well as new martyrs, and has prompted calls from al-Qaida and Taliban for revenge attacks.
According to official reports, 108 people died in the eight-day siege and army assault at the mosque.
There were at least three protests Thursday in Pakistan and two suicide attacks that killed six people in the northwest, a hotbed of Islamic extremism. Government forces surrounded the mosque compound in the capital, Islamabad, following deadly clashes with militants. Elite Special Services Group commandos raided the mosque after unsuccessful attempts to get the militants to surrender.
Troops found the body of the cleric’s brother, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, among the remains of at least 73 people after the 35-hour commando assault ended Wednesday. Ghazi’s body was released to his relatives, who carried it to his ancestral village in Punjab province for burial.
The chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, was escorted by police to the village, Basti Abdullah, so that he could lead the funeral attended by about 3,000 mourners and some 700 police, including 100 plainclothes officers, officials said.
According to custom, prisoners are normally granted permission to attend the funerals of close relatives. Aziz remains under arrest facing charges including possession of illegal weapons and involvement in terrorism.
“Hundreds of our mothers, sisters, sons and daughters have rendered sacrifices,” said Aziz, dressed in white with a checkered head scarf. “God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit.
“Our struggle will continue. There are many Ghazis living to be martyred,” said Aziz, who was captured during the siege while trying to flee disguised as a woman from the Red Mosque.
After the prayers, about two dozen police commandos drove Aziz away in a white police pickup truck.
Al-Qaida decries Musharraf
Meanwhile, the bodies of about 70 of Ghazi’s followers, including two minors, were buried in a graveyard near Islamabad’s police academy. Officials said they took photographs, fingerprints and DNA samples from the bodies before the simple wooden coffins were lowered into shallow, temporary graves to help relatives identify and claim the bodies later.
Militants used the mosque and its adjoining girls’ seminary as a base to challenge the government with an increasingly aggressive anti-vice campaign in the capital. Many in Pakistan are skeptical and believe the death toll could be higher.
Officials said the dead included 10 soldiers, one police officer and several civilians killed in the crossfire of the initial street battles.
Al-Qaida’s deputy leader joined the militant outcry against Musharraf, calling on Pakistanis to wage holy war to avenge the army assault. In a video message Wednesday, Ayman al-Zawahri told Pakistanis their president “rubbed your honor in the dirt.”
Ghazi’s death was a “dirty, despicable crime” that can “only be washed away by repentance or blood,” said al-Zawahri, who is believed to be hiding near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
A suicide car bomber killed three police officers in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, while three government officials died in another suicide attack near the Afghan border, officials said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts.
Jewish, Christian conspiracy?
Some 6,000 people gathered for funerals of three religious students killed in the mosque in the Bajur tribal region of the northwest.
“This is a conspiracy by Jews and Christians against Islam,” cleric Mohammed Sadiq said.
Also in the northwest, several hundred protesters in the town of Bana attacked the offices of three non-governmental organizations, including Care and Save the Children, said police officer Mohammed Idrees.
Prayers were offered for Ghazi in the city of Lahore by more than 2,000 lawyers and opposition activists who hold weekly, largely secular protests of Musharraf’s attempt to dismiss the country’s chief justice.
“This issue could have been resolved through negotiations but General Musharraf intentionally spilled the blood of innocent people to please his foreign masters,” said Mohammed Ahsan Bhoon, president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association.
'Go, Musharraf, go!'
Many of the protesters chanted “Go, Musharraf, go!” and “Musharraf is a dog!”
Musharraf vowed five years ago to regulate Pakistan’s thousands of religious schools, but concerns have only grown that some are used as sanctuaries or training sites for militants.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz warned that the government would act against any other madrassa, or religious school, found to be involved in militancy.
Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said that the Red Mosque assault had sent a strong message that the government “meant business.”