Day seven of the Red Mosque siege in Islamabad, Pakistan, and it appears an assault by security services is now being seriously considered. Any attack could be bloody, and religious figures close to the armed Islamic militants inside have been allowed in to mediate. Many in the Pakistani capital think this may be the last chance for a peaceful outcome to the crisis.
The authorities say a group of al-Qaeda fighters, including two Uzbek commanders reportedly in charge of logistics with the tribal areas near the Afghan border, is holding hundreds of hostages including many women and children. The mosque is without power or water.
It appears that the militancy of Pakistan’s western tribal areas is creeping into the cities. The mosque has been a Taliban stronghold for years, and in the tribal areas themselves on Monday some 20 000 people demonstrated their support for the rebels and the campaign they have waged since January to impose strict Islamic law in the city, attacking music shops, unveiled women, and barbers.
President Musharraf may have to use force, but he fears the public reaction should there be heavy loss of life.