Vol. 5 Num 1127 Wed. August 01, 2007  

'New Red Mosque' rebels threaten suicide attacks

Pro-Taliban militants who seized a shrine and named it after Pakistan's radical Red Mosque said Monday they would retaliate with suicide bombings if troops tried to flush them out.

Around 150 armed masked men late Saturday took control of Turangzai Sahib Mosque in a village in lawless Mohmand tribal district, some 60km northwest of Peshawar.

The militants renamed it the Red Mosque, referring to the radical mosque in the Pakistan capital where more than 100 people died in clashes between security forces and militants early this month.

A group of journalists who visited the tribal district's Lakaro village saw some 50 masked men wearing camouflage jackets and armed with rocket launchers and assault rifles occupying the mosque's ground floor.

More militants were holed up on the first floor of the building.

"We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the mission of Abdur Rashid Ghazi", a militant leader, who identified himself as Umar Khalid, told reporters.

He was referring to the Red Mosque's firebrand cleric who died when troops launched their assault this month.

Khalid claimed he had the support of some 3,000 tribesmen from Mohmand district, which borders Afghanistan's volatile Kunar and Ningarhar provinces.

"Local tribesmen are financing our program to implement Sharia in the region," he said, adding that he and his men were ready to wage Jihad (holy war) against the United States and its allies.

Asked what he would do if Pakistani troops launched an operation to take back the mosque, he said: "Our people will resist, they will consider every option, including suicide bombings."

He said militants seized the mosque because it was adjacent to the shrine of Haji Turangzai Sahib, a known Pashtun warrior who fought against British rulers in the early 1900s.

Following heavy fighting between troops and militants at Islamabad's Red Mosque earlier this month, the badly-damaged building was repaired and the adjoining girls' religious school called Jamia Hafsa demolished.

It was formally reopened for traditional prayers on Friday, but protests and a nearby suicide bombing that killed 14 people soon forced its closure.

The government originally cracked down on the Red Mosque after it led a Taliban-style vigilante campaign for Sharia law that climaxed with the abduction in Islamabad of seven Chinese nationals.

Pro-Taliban militants still hold sway in the rugged Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan despite the deployment of more than 90,000 troops.

Local officials convened a meeting of tribal elders to discuss the seizure of the mosque but have failed so far to resolve the issue.

Pakistani pro-Taliban militants who seized a historic shrine shout slogans as they stand inside the shrine in Lakaro village in the lawless Mohmand tribal district bordering Afghanistan, some 60km northwest of Peshawar on Monday. Pro-Taliban militants who seized a historic shrine and named it after Islamabad's radical Red Mosque said they would resist with suicide bombing if Pakistani troops tried to flash them out. PHOTO: AFP