Identity of Militants in Red Mosque
By Our Special Correspondent: Dawn, July 9, 2007
ISLAMABAD, July 8: The stiff resistance coming from inside the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa complex, with the heavily-armed militants refusing to surrender has continued to raise questions about the identity of those holed up there, as well as about the quality and quantity of weapons and ammunition they have stocked to take on the state’s military might.
For the sixth consecutive day, the militant supporters of Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi responded with automatic fire from inside the mosque-madressah complex, showing little sign of fatigue or shortage of ammunition. And the manner in
which the gunmen targeted an SSG group on Saturday night, killing their commanding officer and injuring a number of others, also demonstrate how well trained some of them are, both in combat actions and sniper firing.
Maulana Ghazi may well be a victim of his own big-mouth and adventurism, as otherwise he is not even half as radical as his elder brother Maulana Aziz, who was captured while trying to escape wearing a burqa. In fact, Maulana Aziz’s wife, Umme Hassan, who is still inside the complex, is believed to have more radical views. Some people even suggest that she may well be the real source
of inspiration for the militants’ so-called suicide squad. Whoever is their leader in the given circumstances, one thing is clear: the 30- or 40-odd militants holed up there have been indoctrinated to a degree that they may prefer to die than surrender.
This is precisely what is preventing the security forces from going for a kill, i.e., storming the huge complex to flush out the armed militants. Their assessment is that such a move could result in a collateral damage of unimaginable proportion because hundreds of women and men who, despite having their deep religious association
with the Mosque-Madressah clerics, have nothing to do with the militants or their ulterior motives.
Again the big question is: who are these militants?
Some of the premier intelligence agencies, having worked closely with Jihadis in the past, particularly when Islamic militancy was an essential tool of the country’s regional policy, may have a better idea about the identity or affiliations of many of those inside the complex. But as the events have continued to unfold, others are also getting some idea about who the armed men are, and how this mosque-madressah complex was being used as a hide-out for various militant organisations.
On day two of the conflict when over 40 radicals were captured as they tried to escape by scaling the complex wall, the authorities discovered that at least five of them were affiliated with Jamaat ud Dawa, formerly known as Lashkar-i-Tayyaba. The presence of these men showed that the doors of the complex were never closed for those fighting for a ‘common cause’.
Later, it was also suggested that a few of the militants were also affiliated with the now defunct Harkat-i-Jihad-i-Islami of the controversial Jihadi leader Qari Saifullah, who is believed to be in the custody of the authorities.
However, the way the events have shaped up over the past few days also indicate that the biggest grouping of militants belongs to the banned Jaish-i-Mohammed. The complex always had close affiliation with Jaish, but the first sign of its physical presence came when on the third day of the conflict the militants handed over the body of a man described as a journalist from a local newspaper. It was later revealed that he had been carrying a fake identity card and was identified as Maqsoodul Mehmood, who used to work for a Jasih-i-Mohammed publication and was cousin of the banned outfit’s supreme leader Maulana Masood Azhar.
By now it has also become quite clear that the person who ideologically controls these militants is Masood Azahr’s brother, Mufti Abdur Rauf.Some-time back, he was accidentally arrested by the local police, and somehow managed to get himself released. Shortly before the start of the operation, he had managed to slip out of the Lal Masjid, and is presently said to be in hiding.
Another militant leader, Qari Naveed Masood Hashmi, is also believed to be quite active, and some say he has been acting as the link between the militant organisations and those holed up inside the mosque-madressah complex.
It’s not clear how long it may take for the security forces for put an end to this saga, but because of the complexity of the situation, and the role some of the militants played in the officially sanctioned Jihad in the past, the mystery about the manner in which this complex was allowed to work as a major sanctuary for militants from Jaish and many other radical organisations may never be revealed.
However, President Gen Pervez Musharraf may like to find out from his aides and intelligence people regarding their earlier assessment of the reaction from other madressahs which, according to him, was one of the reasons for delaying such an operation. At one point, the president had told journalists that the reasons such an operation was being delayed was because there was a fear that radical students from 18 of Islamabad’s madressahs may join the Lal Masjid brigade to create havoc in the capital. No such thing happened, and even when the security forces walked into E-7’s Jamia Fareedia, there was no resistance. Some even go to the extent of saying that the Lal Masjid crisis is nothing but an intelligence fiasco.