Rebel cleric wants death to spark Pak revolution
Islamabad, July 8: A cleric leading militants besieged in an Islamabad mosque hopes their 'martyrdom' would spark an Islamic revolution in Pakistan, he said in a statement published by newspapers today.
Surrounded by government forces, Abdul Rashid Ghazi took over leadership of a Taliban-style movement at Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, after his brother was caught trying to escape a day after the siege began last Tuesday.
''We have firm belief in God that our blood will lead to a revolution in the country,'' the grey-bearded Ghazi said in a statement characterised as a 'will' by Jang, Pakistan's biggest selling Urdu language newspaper.
''God willing, Islamic revolution will be the destiny of this nation,'' wrote the rebel cleric, whose movement is symptomatic of militancy and extremism seeping into Pakistani cities from tribal areas near the Afghan border.
President Pervez Musharraf, who was urged by Pakistani moderates to use force against the Lal Masjid radicals far sooner, warned the militants yesterday that they would be killed if they did not surrender.
Ghazi, polite, articulate and soft-spoken, said his followers would sooner die.
Many of the 5,000 students enrolled at the two madrasas (Islamic schools) affiliated to Lal Masjid before the violence began came from Taliban hotbeds like the Waziristan tribal region.
So far, at least 21 people have been killed, most of them in clashes between armed students and paramilitary troops on Tuesday that led to the siege of the compound housing Lal Masjid and a girls' madrasa called Jamia Hafsa.
Musharraf said security forces had acted with restraint so far in order to minimise casualties among women and children belonging to the cleric brothers' Taliban-style movement, some of whom the government believes are being used as human shields.
Officials branded Ghazi a liar after he told Pakistani news channels today that more than 300 followers, mostly female students, had been killed during intense overnight gunbattles.
Ghazi has claimed that he has 1,900 followers in the mosque, while his brother said there were 850, including 600 women.
The government has not given an estimate, but says hard core militants leading the fighting numbered between 50 to 60.
Ghazi denied children were coerced into staying in the compound, and said they remained out of support for his cause.
''We want justice for poor people. They should get bread. We want an end to adultery, bribery, oppression, obscenity and nepotism. Implementation of the Islamic system is panacea to all these problems,'' wrote Ghazi.
The rebel holds a masters degree in international relations from Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University and was fired as a civil servant over involvement in militant activities.
Ghazi said his movement sprang out of bitterness over the Musharraf government's amendment of Islamic laws on rape last year, the demolition of mosques illegally built on public land, and official condemnation of support for jihadi causes.
He also berated the government for ''handing over Muslims to infidels like cattle'', referring to the transfer of captured al Qaeda suspects to US custody.