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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 July 2007, 20:44 GMT 21:44 UK
Bodies found at Pakistan mosque
Pakistani soldiers return from Red Mosque (11/07/07)
Soldiers overran the mosque amid fierce gun battles
The Pakistani army says it has found 73 bodies inside a mosque compound in Islamabad, after fierce battles between soldiers and gunmen inside.

Officials said the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, complex had been cleared of militants but troops were combing the area for booby traps and explosives.

The mosque's radical deputy chief cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was among the dead, the army said.

The operation followed a week-long siege of the compound by troops.

The mosque had been the focus of spiralling tensions between the government and radical students, who had waged a campaign for the adoption of strict Islamic sharia law.

It had been feared that women and children might be among the casualties, but army spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad said none had been found among the bodies.

Scores of civilians, and some militants, emerged from the complex after troops launched an all-out assault in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

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

Ten soldiers were killed in the fighting, which went from room-to-room.

Some 1,300 people managed to leave the compound during the stand-off, but at least 21 people, including an army commander, were killed.

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

Unexploded grenades

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says the mosque is still off-limits and there is no independent story of what happened there.

Local residents' reaction to the Red Mosque stand-off

Questions, such as how many people died, still need to be answered, our correspondent says.

The army says that will only be known after the clean-up operation.

"This whole area needs to be sanitised because we don't want unexploded grenades or mines or any other explosives lying around," said Gen Waheed.

The troops took control of the complex during the fighting, which lasted for some 36 hours.

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.

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

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

Our correspondent says many Pakistanis supported the operation, saying the government had no choice but to confront the Islamic extremists.

But, she adds, the authorities fear a violent reaction from other radicals, and the country is on high alert.

Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a videotape calling on Pakistani Muslims to launch a "holy war".

In Karachi and Peshawar, near the Afghan border, where support for militants is strong, hundreds of angry demonstrators protested against the storming of the mosque.

Thousands of extra troops have been sent to the border area with Afghanistan amid fears of an Islamist backlash.

Islamic parties have declared three days of mourning across Pakistan.

Meanwhile, 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




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