Lal Masjid linked to militants, spy agencies
Daily Times, July 5, 2007
ISLAMABAD: The Lal Masjid was described by security officials on Wednesday as a hub of militancy, with its clerics having covert links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
But the two brothers who run the mosque also have known intelligence ties – spawning conspiracy theories that President Pervez Musharraf encouraged them to play up tensions and make himself look indispensable to his US allies.
The brothers, Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi, embarked on an apparent collision course with the government six months ago when their burqa-clad students started a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign.
The mosque says it has around 5,000 male and 4,000 female students, ranging in ages from early teens to mid 20s. Most are from conservative northwestern Pakistan and the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
But security sources said Taliban militants were using the sprawling compound to hide in, as were sectarian “jihadis”, or holy warriors, belonging to banned militant groups.
“We had intelligence for some time now that militants were trained as suicide bombers at this complex, having a nexus with Taliban rebels hiding in our tribal areas”, a senior security official told AFP. Several Taliban commanders lodged at the mosque during trips to the capital, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Officials also said some lower-level Taliban commanders were inside the compound as it was besieged on Wednesday, although this could not be confirmed.
The clerics and their late father, who founded the mosque, were proteges of the intelligence during the 1979-89 anti-Soviet jihad and later in supporting the Taliban rise to power in Afghanistan, officials said.
After 9/11 the mosque became a focal point of anti-US and anti-Musharraf sentiment after the Pakistani military ruler abandoned the Taliban and aligned himself with Washington’s “war on terror”.
The changed scenario brought their relations with the intelligence services under stress.
The gulf widened in 2003 when the clerics issued an edict against Pakistani troop operations targeting Taliban and Al Qaeda figures in the tribal areas.
However some sections of the intelligence network continue to provide clandestine support to the clerics despite their hostility towards Musharraf, according to a security official and reports.
Security sources say slain Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah also had links with the brothers. afp