Signs of a Fierce Battle in and around Red Mosque

Charred remains speak of fierce battles
By Syed Irfan Raza: Dawn, July 13, 2007

ISLAMABAD, July 12: Bullet-pocked rooms and blood-stained walls served as grim reminders of ferocious gunbattles when the government opened on Thursday the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa complex to journalists for the first time since the operation there.

Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad, the ISPR chief, guided media persons around the shattered masonry and blackened interiors of the sprawling complex.

Flies swarmed over debris lying outside a room in the Jamia Hafsa where, according to the military spokesman, a militant committed suicide along with five people after having been surrounded on all sides.

A heavy stench of decomposed bodies pervaded the seminary, making it very difficult for journalists to stay there.

The building had a forbidding look about it as gutted furniture, broken fans and walls peppered with bullet holes recalled the room-to-room fighting they had seen.

The entrance of the main hall of the mosque was totally gutted where another suicide bomber blew up explosives strapped to his body when the commandos stormed the mosque.

Gen Waheed said that the militants had stored petrol bombs, which exploded when the suicide bomber blew himself up.

The forces received the strongest resistance in the mosque.

Troops deployed in the complex did not allow journalists to visit some portions of the two buildings due to `security reasons’.

“We are still in the process of combing the complex to clear it of all sorts of explosives and landmines,” the ISPR chief said.

Two minarets of the mosque, used by militants to target the soldiers, were badly damaged. Broken loudspeakers were seen dangling from wires. Sandbagged bunkers were built on rooftops of the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa. Dozens of bullet shells were strewn all over the place.

The military spokesman said that the militants also used narrow corridors and rooms of the Jamia for shooting at the troops. The outer wall of the mosque was destroyed at many places and some troops were seen burning some material near it along a Nullah in the southern side.

Most of the mosque and seminary area had already been cleaned up before journalists were taken inside the two buildings.

The journalists were also shown arms and ammunition stored in a room. These included 10 Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices, hand-grenades, over thirty guns, dozens of ammunition rounds, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, petrol bombs and two unexploded suicide vests. Three vehicles were also present — two inside the complex and one damaged car outside.

Gen Arshad said that the SSG commandos had stormed the mosque complex from Jamia Hafsa, where they were attacked by militants hiding in rooms of the four-storey building and in its basement. He denied reports that there was any tunnel in the building.

The military spokesman, police personnel and officials of the local administration gave conflicting casualty figures.

The ISPR chief put the toll at 86 — 11 army soldiers and 75 militants. But the SSP and Islamabad DC put the number of dead at 102 — 11 soldiers and 91 militants.

Earlier, the journalists were made to wait for hours in sizzling heat outside the complex for their turn as they were taken inside in batches.

Qudssia Akhlaque adds: As the journalists walked through the heavily guarded battered compound amid smoke and stench there was an inexplicable gloom in the air. Blood stains were also visible on the beddings and women’s clothes all rolled up and dumped into a corner in a number of rooms.

Room after room had the same untold story written on the walls with deep bullet marks on all four walls of the rooms and on the roofs. It raised many questions about the official claims that there was stiff resistance from the compound. The dominant view was that more occupants may have been killed than rescued.

Dozens of slippers of women and children seen in the corridors of the Jamia gave the impression that they ran for their lives when the commando operation was launched on Tuesday.

There was no sign of any tunnels that the media was told were being cleared. Also, there was nothing to indicate the existence of the much publicized landmines and booby traps.

On the window sills were still in tact folded chapattis. Melted ceiling fans told the story of the intense and indiscriminate firing.

The belongings of the students parked in the corner of the rooms gave a glimpse of the life inside. There were bangles, prayer beads, letters, prayer books and poems written on the walls. Folded chappatis (bread) were also seen on the window sills. Books on religions were stacked on tables as were religious DVDs and CDs.

A result sheet pasted outside a room on the first floor of Jamia showed that this related to a batch of 1,922 female students.

The Lal Masjid was no different in its state. The rooftop was littered with bullets and broken glass.

The well-equipped media room had computers, printers with loads of religious DVDs and CDs including those of Dr. Zakir Naik. A number of Jihadi videos were also seen.

In the room where weapons of militants and terrorists were displayed, there were also six machine readable passports, three of them bearing the names of Asma Abdul Aziz, Tayeba Abdul Aziz and Majida Abdul Aziz. Perhaps all members of Maulana Abdul Aziz’s family.

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