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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK
Suspicions linger over Red Mosque
Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), Islamabad
The Red Mosque is Pakistan's most controversial place of worship
Deadly clashes have broken out between security forces and militants at a controversial mosque in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

The BBC's Aamer Ahmed Khan, in the city, outlines suspicions that the place of worship has friends in high places.

The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) is connected to a religious school for girls, that has about 2,000-3,000 students.

A few kilometres down the road is Jamia Faridia, the mosque's main school for boys, with an estimated 5,000 students.

I have myself been inside Lal Masjid many times and have on every trip there seen dozens of young men and women armed with pistols, shotguns, rifles and Kalashnikovs.

Suicide squads

This is not a surprising or an unexpected situation for many religious institutions in Pakistan.

But what makes Lal Masjid of special interest to the media is the alleged involvement of Pakistani security agencies in its affairs.

A Pakistani radical student of the Red Mosque

It is generally believed that the mosque administration has powerful friends within Pakistan's security apparatus, which is preventing the government from taking decisive action.

The state minister for religion, Dr Ahmed Yakat Hussein, has also publicly raised the question of who the powerful supporters of the mosque administration could be.

The two brothers in control of the mosque have themselves warned the authorities many times that they have a fleet of suicide bombers ready to attack when ordered.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has also spoken about the presence of suicide bombers inside the mosque.

And even during today's trouble we heard the two brothers apparently pleading with their suicide squads not to strike until so ordered.

At present, there are two main opinions in Pakistan about the mosque.

Lal Masjid students protest outside the mosque in April 2007
Lal Masjid students have had previous stand-offs with authorities

Some believe that the mosque is a liaison centre between religious extremists and the security officials and cannot be dismantled as long as Pakistani security officials feel they need such elements as pawns in their foreign policy agenda.

The other opinion is that the government's dithering on Lal Masjid is typical of Mr Musharraf's indecisiveness and his government's lack of political will.

In either case, few were willing to believe until today that the government would actually move against Lal Masjid.

But with people killed in today's rioting - including one paramilitary official - the situation could finally be turning against the two brothers who control what has now become Pakistan's single most controversial place of worship.

Students and soldiers fire shots at each other

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