Pakistan Cleric Buried; Musharraf Defiant

Mourners gather around an ambulance carrying the coffins of pro-Taliban Pakistani cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed in the siege of Lal Masjid or Red Mosque, during a funeral at his ancestral village Basti Abdullah, some 249 miles west of Multan, Pakistan, Thursday, July 12, 2007. AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer

The captured chief cleric of a militant mosque led the funeral for his slain brother Thursday and predicted that the deaths of the mosque's defenders in an army raid would push Pakistan toward an "Islamic revolution."

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, meanwhile, vowed in a nationally televised address that he would crush extremists throughout Pakistan and move against religious schools, like those at the Red Mosque, that breed them.

Musharraf also said that within the next six months, security forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border would be equipped with modern weaponry, including tanks, to bolster a push against terrorism.

"Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan. But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists," he said. "Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country."

The army crackdown on the radical mosque has raised Musharraf's standing among moderates and foreign backers worried about rising extremism in Pakistan.

But it has given hard-liners a rallying point and new martyrs to mourn, and has prompted calls from al Qaeda and Taliban for revenge attacks.

In apparent retaliation to the mosque siege, two government officials and a police officer were killed Thursday in a pair of bombings in northwest Pakistan, officials said.

The officials died when a bomb exploded at the government headquarters in the North Waziristan region near the Afghan border, intelligence officials said. The police officer was killed in a blast in the remote Swat Valley, police said.

Troops combing the Islamabad mosque and its adjoining seminary for girls found Abdul Rashid Ghazi's body among the remains of at least 73 people after the 35-hour commando assault ended Wednesday.

During a media tour of the bullet-scarred, heavily damaged compound, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said two suicide bombings occurred during the assault.

Arshad showed a room with a charred interior where he said a bomber blew himself up along with five or six other people the general described as hostages, although their bodies were charred beyond recognition. The second bomber killed himself at the entrance of the mosque.

Authorities recovered 75 bodies, none of them women or children, with 19 of these charred beyond recognition, Arshad said.

However, there is skepticism about the military's account and speculation that the toll could be much higher. The Dawn newspaper on Thursday cited an anonymous witness who said he had entered the mosque and seen "hundreds" of corpses.

The remains of dozens of militants were lowered into temporary graves in the capital early Thursday.

Officials released Ghazi's body directly to his relatives, who carried it to his ancestral village in Punjab province for burial on Thursday.

Police escorted Maulana Abdul Aziz, who was caught during the eight-day siege while trying to flee disguised as a woman, to Basti Abdullah so that he could attend his brother's funeral at a seminary set up by his father.

The brother took over the running of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in the capital after their father's assassination in a sectarian attack in 1998.

"Hundreds of our mothers, sisters, sons and daughters have rendered sacrifices," Aziz, a gray-bearded man dressed in white clothes and a checkered head scarf, said before leading prayers attended by about 3,000 people.

"Whatever happened in the past days is not hidden from anyone. God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit," Aziz said calmly.

"We can let our necks be severed but we cannot bow down before oppressive rulers. Our struggle will continue. There are many Ghazis living to be martyred," he said.

About two dozen police commandos led Aziz into the madrassa compound and escorted him back after the funeral prayers and drove him away in a white police pickup truck.

Several female relatives of Ghazi dressed in black veils flashed victory signs to reporters as police escorted them to a waiting car after the funeral.

Some 700 police, including 100 plainclothes officers, were deployed for security at the gathering, area police chief Maqsoodul Hassan Chaudhry said.

According to official reports, 108 people died in eight days of fighting around the Red Mosque and its adjoining seminary for girls, which had challenged the government with an increasingly aggressive anti-vice campaign in the capital.

Officials said the dead included 10 soldiers, one police ranger and several civilians killed in the crossfire of the initial street battles that erupted July 3.
  • Alfonso Serrano