The authorities in Pakistan have issued what they say is their last warning to Islamic militants holed up inside an Islamabad mosque and religious school. Troops surrounded the Red Mosque almost a week ago, after clashes erupted between armed student radicals and government troops. Security officials have so far held back from mounting a full-scale assault due to fears for groups of women and children inside. It is thought hundreds of people remain captive.
The Red Mosque has been a hotbed of militancy for years, known for its pro-Taliban stance and opposition to President Pervez Musharraf’s backing for the US-led war on terror. Around 1,200 students gave themselves up soon after the fighting began but their numbers have since slowed to a trickle.
Negotiations with those inside were cut off days ago, as was water, power and access to food. Government officials claim up to 60 hard-core militants are leading the fighting and using the women and children as human shields. The government says dozens of highly-trained al Qaeda-linked militants, some from Uzbekistan and Chechnya, are directing events inside.