Abdul Rashid Ghazi, deputy head of the Red Mosque, announces the release of Chinese hostages during a press conference in Islamabad. Students from a radical mosque kidnapped and then released Saturday nine people from an alleged brothel in the Pakistani capital, a mosque leader and officials said.(AFP/Aamir Qureshi)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani troops cornered holdout Islamic militants and combed the warren-like Red Mosque complex for booby traps Wednesday after assaulting the compound and killing its pro-Taliban cleric, the army spokesman said.
“The final phase is going on,” Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad told the private Geo television network. He said three of the remaining die-hard defenders had been killed overnight, and that troops were meeting resistance in just “one or two places” of the sprawling compound in the heart of the Pakistani capital.
More than 50 militants and nine soldiers have been killed since the assault began in the early hours of Tuesday, including the mosque’s pro-Taliban cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the army said.
Commandos went in after unsuccessful attempts to get the mosque’s militants to surrender to a weeklong siege mounted by the government following deadly street clashes with armed supporters of the mosque on July 3.
The extremists had been using the mosque as a base to send out radicalized students to enforce their version of Islamic morality, including abducting alleged prostitutes and trying to “re-educate” them at the compound.
More than 80 people have been killed overall since the violence began.
By early afternoon Wednesday, nearly 35 hours after the assault began, the intermittent explosions and gunfire earlier heard from the inside the complex, which includes the mosque and a women’s religious school, had ceased.
An army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to press, said earlier that troops were moving from room to room in basements of the compound, blowing up foxholes where militants had been entrenched. He said the three militants reported killed Tuesday night were trapped in foxholes by commandos.
The army asked reporters to prepare for a tour of the embattled site, indicating the operation was nearing its end. No details of where exactly the press would be taken were provided.
Relatives of young women, men and children who had been inside waited behind army barricades around the mosque or inquired at morgues Wednesday.
Ghazi’s body was found in the basement of a women’s religious school after a fierce gunbattle involving militants, senior Interior Ministry official Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema said.
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