Pakistan's controversial Lal Masjid re-opens

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Islamabad, Oct 3: Pakistani authorities opened a mosque in the capital, Islamabad, today nearly three months after more than 100 people were killed when commandos stormed the compound to end a siege by Islamist gunmen. Hundreds of people turned up to offer prayers at the newly painted and repaired Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, which was re-opened on the orders of the Supreme Court.

An earlier attempt to re-open the mosque sparked violent clashes between Islamists and police and a suicide bomber killed 13 people near the mosque on the same day.

But there was no trouble today as police removed barbed wire and security posts from around the mosque.

''We don't need any security, it was not us but the policemen here who created the problem,'' said Shah Abdul Aziz, an opposition member of parliament from an Islamist party.

More than 100 people were killed during a week-long siege and army assault on the mosque and religious school complex in July after violence broke out between gunmen based at the mosque and security forces outside.

Among those killed in the July 10 assault was Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a radical cleric who led the mosque's Taliban-style movement with his brother, Abdul Aziz.

Aziz was captured during the siege when he tried to slip out of the mosque and past security forces clad in a woman's burqa.

A nephew of the brothers, Amir Siddique, has been made a deputy cleric at the mosque.

The mosque's bullet-pocked walls and blasted outer walls have been repaired. Authorities tore down the religious school after the siege.

Since the assault, Pakistan has suffered a bloody spate of suicide bombings and attacks on security forces in apparent revenge.

Several hundred people have been killed.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, vowed in an audiotape released last month to retaliate against President Pervez Musharraf for the assault.

Aziz said the mosque's followers would carry on the mission of implementing Islamic sharia through peaceful means.

Reuters>

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