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Home > News > Report

How many people died in Operation Silence?

Rediff International Affairs Bureau | July 13, 2007 16:52 IST

Outside the Lal Masjid, a storm brews, with Al Qaeda [Images] number two Ayman al-Zawahiri calling for a jihad against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf [Images] and the latter vowing to 'root out terrorism' from all corners of the country.

Within the embattled mosque itself, all is silent, with the silence of the grave.

On a blackboard used as teaching aide was found the inscription: 'O God, give us a martyr's death'.

It is known for certain that people died in the military action -- code-named Operation Silencagainst the mosque; what is not clear is how many.

It is known that thousands of girl students aged between four and 20 routinely study the Koran at the Jamia Hafsa madrassa; it is not known how many were inside when, at the end of the prolonged fire-fight between army commandos and heavily armed terrorists, one suicide bomber detonated himself as the army stormed into the compound.

Chief military spokesperson Major General Waheed Arshad told journalists only a few dozen women and children were in the school when the siege began, and that almost all of them had escaped before the final battle.

Agencies report that some bodies were charred so badly that it is impossible to determine either sex or age. Officials also pointed out to journalists a head that they claimed belonged to the suicide bomber.

Military officials say 75 militants and 11 soldiers were killed in the 35-hour-long firefight; however, there is no word on the number of civilian casualties. 39 of those killed are confirmed as being below the age of 18.

Journalists taken on a tour of the mosque report a tale of total devastation. Flies buzzed over blood-drenched floors; interior walls had in places been broken down to create impromptu bunkers; elsewhere, schoolbooks had been piled into barricades.

Bullet holes ridged those walls still standing, and perforated windows and doors.

Classrooms and sleeping quarters were alike littered with broken glass and rifle shells; The bare concrete rooms that served as classrooms and sleeping quarters were littered with broken glass and spent rifle cartridges.

Media reports say the devastation was most profound in the basement where rebel cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi made his last stand. The walls were shattered by explosives; twisted metal furniture lay scattered around the room; and the acrid stench of explosives hung in the air a full 24 hours after the end of the firefight.

The Lal Masjid itself was relatively unscathed. Media reports indicate that the entrance hall has been completely destroyed, and the minarets had taken some damage; otherwise, the structure remains intact.

Major General Arshad showed journalists the remains of the terrorists' arsenal: machineguns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, antitank mines, unexploded suicide vests; a crate of petrol bombs; large quantities of ammunition. Gas masks, scanners and DVDs purportedly propagating the jihadi ideology lay mixed in with the weaponry.

Scenes of the weapons seized and the condition of the madarassa were screened on a special programme on PTV, the Pakistan government-run television channel late on Thursday night.

Even as President Musharraf, in a televised address to the nation, said the incident called for national mourning, and portrayed it as a do-or-die battle against terrorism, mourners in village Rohjan, in southern Punjab, vented their fury on the government while participating in the funeral of the slain cleric.

Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, the senior cleric at the Masjid who was caught while trying to escape clad in a burqa, and who is being held on 25 counts of murder and terrorism, was granted parole to attend his brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi's funeral and to lead the prayers; an estimated 2000 people attended.

Mourners picked up the cry for a revolt against the Musharraf government, chanting 'al-jihad' as the body was being interred. Elsewhere, nearly 70 terrorists killed in the military operation were interred in unmarked graves in Islamabad; the individual coffins were identified only by numbers, not names, newspapers reported.