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Commandos clear Lal Masjid of all militants
K J M Verma in Islamabad | July 11, 2007 21:16 IST
Pakistani troops on Wednesday cleared the besieged Lal Masjid of remaining militants after two days of bitter fighting even as fears of a backlash from radicals put authorities on high alert.
"The first phase of the operation is over. There are no more militants left inside," Army spokesman Maj Gen Washeed Arshad told reporters.
The mosque complex was being combed for mines, booby traps and other weaponry as troops battled the last handful of hardcore militants who were holed up in its basement.
Eighty militants surrendered or were either captured while soldiers began collecting bodies, an army official said.
There was no clear picture on the death toll in the assault on the complex in which radical cleric Abdul Rashid Gazi was killed but media reports said the number of dead militants could be upto 90 while 12 commandos lost their lives.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said no bodies of women or children had been found inside the mosque complex yet.
Ghazi had used scores of women and children taken hostage as human shields in the face of fierce gun battles and there were reports some of them may have been killed.
Arshad said troops checked all the bunkers built in the basement of the mosque, where most of the militants were holed up and had offered stiff resistance.
The ripples of the Lal Masjid crackdown were felt mostly in tribal areas of NWFP where a militant cleric Maulana fazarullah, who is also relative of Ghazi, threatened to step up attacks against Pakistan military.
Security was beefed up across the country, especially the major cities and the volatile NWFP and Paksitan-occupied Kashmir from where majority of the Lal Masjid students hailed.
Meanwhile, President Pervez Musharraf [Images] is due to address the nation on Thursday.