Pakistani forces have stormed Islamabad’s Red Mosque after talks to end a week-long stand-off with radical militants holed up inside broke down. The assault took place in the early hours of the morning. Dozens of militants and several soldiers have reportedly been killed, but it is reported some 20 children were rescued. Sporadic fire rang out over the capital and thick smoke was seen rising from the compound which also houses a religious school and a library.
An unknown number of women and children were believed to be held inside, to be used as human shields. The Red Mosque has been a centre for militancy for years and in recent months was used as a stronghold by radical students who wanted to install Sharia law in the city.
On Monday, at the behest of President Pervez Musharraf, a delegation of Muslim scholars had gathered outside the mosque and attempted to discuss with the militants by loudspeaker, but to no avail. “We have done everything which was possible on the end of the government,” said Pakistani Information minister Mohammed Ali Durrani. “And we are really disappointed by the behaviour on the other end.”
The radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi who is leading the opposition movement said no one was being held against their will. He and his fighters were ordered to surrender or die.