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8 militants arrested while escaping from Lal Masjid
K J M Varma in Islamabad | July 05, 2007 23:37 IST
Eight hardcore militants were arrested on Thursday while trying to escape from the besieged Lal Masjid as the Pakistan army stepped up its offensive to flush them out from the seminary by resorting to selective bombardment using helicopter gun ships damaging its gates and walls.
As the authorities made frequent appeals to those holed up in the mosque-cum-seminary to surrender and extended deadlines, Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said about 50 to 60 heavily-armed militants were keeping women and children as human shields.
"They have AK-47s, grenades and petrol bombs. They are keeping women and children who want to come out of the mosque," he said.
While the army resorted to selective bombardment of the Masjid and its madrassas damaging their walls and gates by firing mortar shells, three US-made Cobra helicopter gun ships made repeated sorties for surveillance and firing teargas into the complex to flush the militants out.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, brother of head cleric Abdul Aziz arrested Wednesday night while trying to flee donning a burqa, was said to be in command of the seminary.
Interior Ministery spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said Ghazi and other militants had no option but to unconditionally surrender before the law enforcing agencies.
With their hands tied behind their backs, the blindfolded militants were moved to a van near a government building.
Aziz was on Thursday slapped with charges of terrorism, abduction of six Chinese women and possession of illegal arms and was remanded to seven days police custody.
His daughter arrested with him on Wednesday night, was also sent to police custody for a week.
Cheema said that 1,146 students have come out and surrendered before the law enforcing agencies so far -- 745 male and 401 females. He said that females are being sent to Haji Camp.
He said the government would take responsibility of widows and orphans and bear their expenses, adding the prime minister has also issued special directives in this regard.