Operation against ‘Red Mosque’ ends, 83 ‘officially’ dead
According to the government, the two-day operation against the Lal Masjid left 10 soldiers and 73 Islamic extremists dead, including ‘many’ terrorists. Independent sources claim a much higher number of casualties. Al-Qaeda threatens a blood bath to avenge the attack.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The official death toll from the operation launched Monday night by the Pakistani government against the capital’s Lal Masjid or Red Mosque stands at 83. Anonymous sources have said however that the final number remains uncertain as graves are being dug near the place of worship to bury the dead militants.

There are no women among the dead but the armed forces lost ten men. Among the militants many were terrorists, said army spokesman Major General Arshad Wahees.

However, a promised tour of the compound for the media and humanitarian observers was cancelled.

The security forces, which are answerable directly to the president, claimed to have arrested 15 injured militants on Wednesday. But it is not clear where or who they are.

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the mosque’s spiritual leader who died in the operation, was buried in his native village of Rojhan Mahari after the government prevented his burial from taking place in the capital.

The international community by and large condemned the violence at the mosque but commended Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for his commitment against international terrorism. Afghan Hamid Karzai expressed his unconditional approval of the action.

Many are however concerned about the threats proffered by al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri, who in a videotaped message ordered a holy war against the Pakistani government for its action in Lal Masjid.

In his message directed at Muslims in Pakistan and their religious leaders, al-Zawahiri said that this “crime can only be washed away by repentance or blood.”

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