07/11/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Army operation in Red Mosque almost completed

Military action against extremists holed up in the Lal Maslis that began yesterday morning and is almost over. Total casualty figure now stands at 63, including extremists and soldiers as well as Muslim cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Pakistan's army says an operation to flush out militants from the capital’s Lal Masjid or Red Mosque is in its final stages.

Pakistan's military spokesman General Waheed Arshad said this morning that the battle had progressed slowly because the army was anxious to avoid casualties among the unknown number of women and children in the basement.

The troops were ordered to attack the mosque on Tuesday morning. Some 55 extremists were killed, including the mosque’s militant religious leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi, and eight soldiers.

The few remaining militants are believed to be holed up in the private quarters of Mr Ghazi with some hostages.

It is still not clear how many Islamist militants have survived. Some sources say no more than 20 are left, all belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad, an outlawed radical Muslim organisation which has been linked to al-Qaeda. No one in the military has not confirmed the connection but only spoken about mosque students.

The Lal Masjid and its annex, the madrassa Jamia Hafsa, have been a thorn in President Musharraf’s side since January when they began a ‘talebanisation’ campaign in Pakistan in order to impose the Sharia on the entire country.

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