Inside the Red Mosque
Inside the Red Mosque
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Islamabad

The bullet-riddled walls and roofs of the Red Mosque's interior tell the story of a fierce battle.

Pakistani soldiers at battle-damaged Red Mosque - 12/07/2007
Much of the Red Mosque complex was badly damaged in the battle
The mosque, located in a central district of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, was stormed by troops two days ago to clear out Islamic militants holed up inside.

The government says 10 soldiers, one policeman and 75 militants were killed in the fighting and the week-long standoff that preceded the final assault.

For six months, the halls and rooms of Jamia Hafsa, a women's seminary inside the mosque, were home to a new breed of Islamic hardliners - women clad from head to toe in black Islamic veils, and wielding batons and assault rifles.

They captured a children's library located on one side of the mosque, kidnapped policemen who had strayed too close to the building, and kept vigil on the roofs of the seminary and the adjoining hostel.

Now their classrooms and lecture halls are littered with debris that fell from the walls when the buildings came under fire.

Final assault

An army spokesman says none of these women died during the week-long clashes between the troops and the militants. Apparently, there were no female hostages either.

About 1,200 women and children walked out of the seminary on 4 July, after the troops started a siege of the mosque.

Gravediggers bury coffins in Islamabad, 12 July 2007
The army spokesman says at least 19 bodies found from the premises were charred by fire beyond recognition

And more than 80 women left the premises on the morning of 10 July, just before the troops launched their final assault.

The army says the mother of the two brothers who ran this mosque complex, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdur Rashid, was the only woman inside the hostel when the endgame began.

She died along with Ghazi Rashid, her younger son and deputy head of the mosque, in a hall in the upper basement of the hostel.

The eastern windows of the hall overlook a narrow, deep ravine and a small group of huts on the far side.

A soldier said the army fired rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) from the huts and from the cover of the trees to punch holes in the outer wall of the hall.

The RPGs did not kill Ghazi Rashid. In fact, they were mostly fired during the preceding week when the troops were constantly pounding the building from three sides to damage its walls.

Ghazi Rashid was killed by special forces soldiers who came from the front, from the western side of the mosque and down the basement stairs. It is unclear how his mother died.

RPG and heavy arms fire from the north brought down a large portion of the wall of the seminary and set on fire a large kitchen. Fire is still smouldering in the heap of ashes that were once a stockpile of fuel wood.

Weapons found

To the south, the troops destroyed portions of the boundary wall just below the hostel building and used it as an entry point for their final assault.

Fire also broke out in several halls and rooms of both the seminary and the hostel, destroying furniture, clothes and books.

Pakistani soldiers at battle-damaged Red Mosque - 12/07/2007
Classrooms and halls were blown apart and littered with debris
The army spokesman says at least 19 bodies found from the premises were charred by fire beyond recognition.

The inmates did seem to have made efforts to put out the fire where they could.

One wall of a library in the upper storey of the hostel was black from fire that had also burnt its doors to ashes, but a shelf containing registers, notebooks and some light reading material remained untouched.

A similar shelf lined the sidewall of the hall in the hostel where Ghazi Rashid died.

Other than this, the only remains from the seminary's recent past are the weapons found in the premises, and bedding and girls' clothing that was spared by fire.

In one room, the upper part of a sewing machine lies on empty floor, a relic of a more peaceful past.



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