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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 July 2007, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Red Mosque 'cleared of militants'
Pakistani soldiers return from Red Mosque (11/07/07)
Soldiers overran the mosque amid fierce gun battles
The Pakistani army says it has cleared a mosque compound in Islamabad of militants, a day after commandos stormed the complex.

Troops have found 73 bodies at the scene, officials said.

Previous estimates suggested 50 people inside the Red Mosque were killed, and that 10 soldiers also died.

One of the mosque's militant clerics, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, and some of his supporters, were among those who died.

The compound was besieged by troops for a week amid rising tension between radical students and the government.

Students at the mosque and its attached religious schools had waged a campaign for months pressing for the adoption of strict Islamic Sharia law.

'No more militants'

Troops battled the last handful of rebels holed-up in a corner of the mosque compound until early afternoon.

Then, after nearly 36 hours of fighting, the army announced the end of its combat operation.

Local residents' reaction to the Red Mosque stand-off

"The first phase of the operation is over. There are no more militants left inside," army spokesman Maj Gen Washeed Arshad told the Associated Press news agency.

As well as collecting bodies, troops have been combing the area for booby traps and unexploded ordnance.

In addition to those killed, about 70 militants had been captured or surrendered, the army said earlier.

It is not clear how many people were inside the complex when it was stormed.

RED MOSQUE STAND-OFF
3 July: Clashes erupt at mosque, 16 killed, after long student campaign for Islamic Sharia law
4 July: About 700 students leave mosque, now besieged by security forces; mosque leader caught trying to flee wearing woman's burka
5 July: More than 1,000 students surrender to security forces
6 July: Women are allowed to leave the mosque; students' deputy leader says he would rather die than surrender
8 July: Ministers say wanted militants are holding women and children inside the mosque
9 July: Negotiators talk to mosque leader via loudspeaker without progress; three Chinese workers are killed in Peshawar over siege
10 July: Pakistani troops storm mosque after failure of talks; army says Ghazi killed
11 July: Pakistani army says all militants cleared from mosque

The troops attacked the mosque on Tuesday morning and took control of the complex during heavy fighting.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said Mr Ghazi was killed as troops were flushing out militants still inside a madrassa (religious school) for women and girls inside the compound.

Mr Ghazi's body was being sent to his home village in Baluchistan for burial.

Security forces began a full-scale siege of the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, last week, not long after mosque students abducted seven Chinese workers they accused of running a brothel.

The government had said it wanted to detain a number of people on a wanted list, and also a number of foreigners whom it said were inside.

At least 21 people, including an army commander, were killed during the stand-off, while some 1,300 people managed to leave the compound.

Backlash fear

There is now a danger of a violent reaction from members of other radical mosques, the BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The outcome of this episode will determine the future of war against terror
Muhammad Saeed, Islamabad

They will almost certainly see Mr Ghazi as a martyr and his death may become a rallying point for Islamic extremists opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's rule, she says.

Hundreds of angry demonstrators protested against the storming of the mosque in Karachi and Peshawar, near the Afghan border.

An opposition Islamic alliance, the Mutahida Majlis Amal, has declared three days of mourning in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, AP reported.

Islamabad remains on high alert and thousands of extra troops have been sent to the border area with Afghanistan amid fears of an Islamist backlash.

Pro-Taleban militants in the border tribal region of North Waziristan have told the government to withdraw troops from checkpoints or face renewed attacks.

THE RED MOSQUE SIEGE
map
1 Special forces attack compound from three sides and breach mosque walls
2 Fierce fighting between military and militants on mosque roof
3 Military take control of mosque and clear building
4 Militants fire from mosque minarets as action switches to madrassa
5 Remaining militants holed up in its basement, with women and children




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
A Pakistani military spokesman on the operation



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