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Blasts rock Islamabad as army flushes out militants
K J M Varma in Islamabad | July 11, 2007 10:30 IST
Loud explosions were heard in the heart of Islamabad as Pakistani troops continued their operation to flush out militants holed up in the Lal Masjid complex, a day after radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi and 100 others were killed in fierce gun battles.
Defence Spokesman Maj Gen Wahid Arshad told media persons that the operation is continuing, as troops are checking the bunkers built in the basement of the mosque, where most of the militants are holed up and are offering stiff resistance.
Troops had on Tuesday launched 'Operation Silence' to flush out heavily-armed hardliners, who were also holding a large number of women and children as hostages. Eighty-eight militants and 12 commandos dead were killed in the fierce gun battles between the two sides.
43-year-old Ghazi, the younger brother of the captured head of the Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz, was killed by the security forces in the basement after he refused to surrender.
There were reports that Ghazi had held women and children as human shields, some of whom were said to have been killed.
Officials said Ghazi was shot in the leg and told to surrender but he refused to do so, prompting commandos to carry out the attack.
The death toll has crossed 100 as the operation continued with well-armed militants engaging troops in pitched battles.
The army raid took place in a dramatic fashion after an 11-hour 'cell phone' talks between Ghazi and Shujaat Hussain, the former premier and chief of ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q, failed to end the stand-off.
"I have never been disappointed in my life, but I am leaving this place with extreme dejection," Hussain said in the nationally-televised press meet after the talks failed.
"I asked him to give up his stubborn attitude for the sake of Allah, for the sake of children, for the sake of women, sisters and mothers, but in vain," Hussain said.
By the time the dazed newsmen, who till then perceived that a breakthrough was round the corner, absorbed Hussain's statement, firing and explosions rocked many sides of the Lal Masjid and the defence ministry lost no time in announcing that Operation Silence, the code name for action against the mosque, had commenced.
Ghazi, taking advantage of the cell phone handed over to him by the government for talks, quickly called the channels in the midst of the explosions claiming that he had been deceived by Hussain and Religious Affairs Minister Izajul Haq and vowed to resist the crackdown till his death.
"I said to Shujaat (Hussain) that kill us, but people will not allow you to go in peace," Ghazi said before the government disconnected his phone.