Hardline Pak cleric bows to pressure, condemns Peshawar massacre

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Islamabad, Dec 21: A hardline cleric of Pakistan's infamous Lal Masjid has condemned the massacre of children by Taliban in a Peshawar school and apologised for his earlier remarks that the militant group's act in response to the military operation was understandable, sparking an outrage.

"I condemn the killing of schoolchildren and apologise," said Maulana Abdul Aziz, who had refused to condemn the Peshawar massacre which left 148 people dead, mostly students.

terrorist

Aziz, nicknamed 'Mulla Burqa' after he was arrested while trying to flee dressed in a burqa, had refused to condemn the attack claimed by the Taliban in a TV appearance. He had hypocritically expressed grief at the loss of life, and said the Taliban's response to the military operation was understandable.

The Taliban had said the attack was a revenge for an ongoing military offensive against its strongholds in the tribal northwest. Following his remarks, the civil society members held vigil outside the mosque and demanded action against him. Aziz later realised his mistake after his followers convinced him.

He also clarified that he did not threaten any member of civil society and police have registered FIR against him under social pressure which is not a good precedent, the Express Tribune reported.

"We condemn every incident of violence, whether it was massacre in Peshawar or brutal killing of children during drone attacks or in Lal masjid," Aziz said, adding that his personal opinion was unnecessarily propagated in the media.

"I forgave (Gen Pervez) Musharraf for launching military operation against us, how it is possible that I was not saddened by the killing of innocent schoolchildren," he added.

Separately, a case was registered against Aziz in Karachi for allegedly issuing threats to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain. MQM leader Qamar Mansoor confirmed the registration of case. Commenting on the MQM case, Aziz said Hussain's remarks against Lal Masjid were provocative and warrants legal action. The Lal Masjid enjoys an iconic status among extremists.

The cleric has even named a library in his madrasa after Osama bin Laden. Musharraf launched a crackdown on the Lal Masjid in 2007 after its leaders sent students armed with sticks onto the city's streets to try and impose hardline Sharia laws. With the mosque complex stocked with illegal weapons at least 100 people died during the crackdown. Aziz's younger brother was also killed in the crackdown.

PTI

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