07/04/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Lal Masjid: the mosque that wants to talebanise the country (overview)

It abducts and intimidates; it has even set up its own Sharia court independent of the country’s judiciary; since January Islamabad’s ‘Red Mosque’ is tying down General Musharraf’s government.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Yesterday’s armed clashes at the Lal Masjid or Red Mosque in Islamabad are but the latest in a series of violent episodes connected with the place of worship.

Since January its leaders have preached the necessity to impose Islamic law on the entire country. For years it has trained madrassa students to use violence against the government.

On January 22 female students from Lal Masjid’s Jamia Hafsa madrassa took over a nearby Children’s Library to protest the razing of seven mosques.

On February 13, the authorities agreed to rebuild one of the razed mosques to end the library standoff.

On March 27, female students again from the Jamia Hafsa and male students from Lal Masjid’s Jamia Faridia madrassa raided a house and kidnapped a woman, her daughter-in-law and her six-month-old granddaughter for allegedly running a brothel. They were released after they “repented.”

On March 28, madrassa students took three policemen hostage. Although they were released the following day, the students, who were not prosecuted, claimed that they had been detained to protest the arrests of fellow students.

On March 30, madrassa students visited CD and video shops and warned owners that they should either switch to another business or face the “consequences”. Some stores closed; others started selling different products.

On April 6, the Lal Masjid sets up its own Sharia court and its chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, pledged “thousands of suicide attacks” if the government tried to shut it down.

On April 9, the same self-styled Sharia court passed a fatwa against former tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar after she was pictured hugging her male parachuting instructor.

On April 10, the government announced it had blocked the mosque’s illegal website and radio station.

On April 25, Pakistan Muslim League President Chaudhry Shujaat announced that all issues had been peaceably settled, but Maulana Abdul Aziz denied any agreement had been reached.

On May 18, Jamia Faridia students kidnapped four policemen in reaction to the arrest of 11 madrassa students.

On May 20, Chaudhry Shujaat tried to resolve the situation through talks with the Lal Masjid administration but failed.

On June 23, Jamia Faridia and Jamia Hafsa students raided a massage parlour, which they claimed was a brothel and kidnapped nine people working there, including seven Chinese nationals. They were all later released the next day but left town.

On June 29, President Pervez Musharraf claimed that suicide bombers from an Al Qaeda-linked militant group were hiding in Lal Masjid, but said that he could do nothing to stop them.

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