Pakistan is rethinking its strategy over the Red Mosque siege as hundreds of people remain captive nearly a week after being taken hostage by Taliban-style extremists.
The government says dozens of highly-trained, al Qaeda-linked, militants, some from Uzbekistan and Chechnya, are directing events inside the mosque.
Pakistani media reports say 12 of the students being held as human shields have gone on hunger strike, and three more who attempted to leave were shot.
Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister, Ijaz-ul Haq said: “At this time, as far as we know, there are about 500 people hostage. The women have been separated from the children and locked up.”
President Perves Musharraf, seen here at the funeral of an army officer who was shot outside the Mosque during the night, has ruled out storming the compound up to now.
But negotiation with those inside was cut off days ago, as was the water, power and access to food supplies.
Today Musharraf apparently met with his Prime Minister to discuss a possible military assault amid fears the militants may soon start killing the women and children.
Young men who escaped the siege in the first few days are only now being released from police custody having proved they were not involved in the hostage-taking.
The Red Mosque has been a militant hotbed for years, known to be supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.