ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 8 â€” Tensions were rising Sunday inside and outside the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, here, under siege by security forces now for six days over its militant leadership. A colonel leading a special forces unit was killed early Sunday, and government officials said that militants had taken charge inside and had shot students who tried to leave.
After comments by Pakistanâ€™s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, that the militants should surrender or be prepared to die, the leader of the mosque, Abdur Rashid Ghazi, retorted that he preferred martyrdom.
In comments published in newspapers on Sunday, Mr. Ghazi, who has campaigned to have Islamic law enforced in Pakistan, said he hoped their deaths would bring about an Islamic revolution in Pakistan. “We have firm belief in God that our blood will lead to a revolution,â€ he said.
Armed militants have taken over control of the mosque from Mr. Ghazi, said the religious affairs minister, Ijaz-ul Haq. “Ghazi is no longer in control,â€ Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying. “The hard-core militants are in control of the mosque.â€
Among them were “terrorists who are wanted within and outside Pakistan,â€ he said. “These terrorists have links with Arabs.â€
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said there would be no relaxation of the pressure on the militants to surrender and release the women and children from among the students from religious schools they are believed to be holding inside. The interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, said that security forces were trying to aid the escape of students in the mosque.
The siege began after the mosque leaders used students to carry out a series of raids and sit-ins to press for their interpretation of Islamic law. For families waiting for news of students still trapped inside the mosque complex, the growing dangers of the siege were a torment.
“My daughter is missing â€” I donâ€™t know if she is alive or dead,â€ said Manzur Ahmed, an old man with a white beard and patterned prayer cap on his head, trembling as he spoke. “I am extremely worried. My heart is aching.â€
He said he had traveled here from his home in Bahawalpur, in southern Punjab Province, after his daughter, Sumaya Tabbasum, 19, called him on Thursday morning from inside the mosque. “She was very worried, and she was saying, â€˜Father, please pray to God, Father, please pray to God, Father, please pray to God,â€™ â€ he said.
Security forces, who had been accompanying families to the mosque to be reunited with their children, appear to have stopped the practice after one group was fired upon on Friday by militants inside the mosque. Mr. Ahmed said security officials had turned him away, saying it was too dangerous.
Hundreds of students emerged in the first days during lulls in the shooting, but only two students managed to come out of the mosque on Sunday, officials said.
Another man, Misraddin, from the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir, said his niece was still inside the complex. Her brother had been shot in the foot by militants when he had approached the mosque two days ago in a group with 10 other civilians seeking their relatives. “They shot from inside the mosque; they did not want to let the students come out,â€ the uncle said.
Separately, gunmen shot and killed three Chinese men and wounded a fourth in an attack in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Sunday, news agencies reported. The men were workers making three-wheeled auto-rickshaws. The motive for the attack was not clear, but Chinese citizens have been among the targets of Islamist militants.
After students from the mosque abducted seven Chinese women from a massage parlor two weeks ago, the Chinese government, a close economic ally of Pakistan, pressed Pakistan to do more to protect its citizens.
In Islamabad on Sunday, relatives gathered at a sports stadium to try to find out news as the government prepared to release the first male students, all of whom have been detained since they began leaving the mosque compound five days ago. The first 152 â€” all under age 18 â€” were released Sunday after being held in a jail in Rawalpindi.
Most parents were critical of the mosque leaders, saying they had endangered their childrenâ€™s lives. “We think the culprit is Maulana Abdul Aziz,â€ said one father, referring to the leader of the Red Mosque complex, the elder brother of Mr. Ghazi, who was caught last week trying to escape dressed like a woman in a burqa.
“We did not think Aziz had another agenda,â€ said Zafar Iqbal, 58, a former policeman from Rawalpindi. “Please make it clear that the children have been wronged.â€
He added in disgust, “He should be shot, the maulana,â€ using a title for a teacher or leader.
Yet he and other parents said the government should negotiate with the leaders of the mosque to prevent damage to a holy site and to secure the release of the remaining students.
“I sent my son here to learn Urdu, but to study, not to fight, and not to enter a confrontation with the government,â€ said Malik Muhammad Ayub, a bearded elder from the tribal region of South Waziristan, where there also has been heavy fighting between Islamist militants and the government in recent months. His grandson, Fez Muhammad, 17, was among those expected to be released at the stadium.
“I am Muslim and we want Shariah law in this country,â€ he said, referring to Islamic law. “They are good scholars in that mosque, but in the last days I think they were rather aggressive and they should have negotiated with the government.â€
He also said the government should negotiate an end to the conflict rather than using military force. “Fighting is never a solution, and you should always enter into negotiations,â€ he said.
The students who were released Sunday evening were in an excited mood, chattering together and rushing in and out of a series of makeshift bedrooms inside the stadium. They said that Mr. Aziz, the mosque leader, had told them they were free to leave Wednesday, after the first day of fighting.
“There was firing and we did not have any weapons,â€ said Shabir Ahmed, 17, from Kohistan in northern Pakistan, explaining why he chose to leave. “There were many in bunkers who wanted to fight.â€
Asked if he supported those still fighting the government, he answered yes without hesitation.
But the students also said that the government should try to make peace rather than fight its own people. “The government should solve this through negotiation, because Muslims are dying on both sides,â€ Mr. Ahmed said. “Itâ€™s not a good thing for Muslims to fight Muslims.â€
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