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Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Sunday, 6 July 2008 16:59 UK

Profile: Islamabad's Red Mosque

Pakistani Islamists perform ritual ablutions at the Red Mosque ahead of afternoon prayers, 6 July 2008
Islamists gathered at the Red Mosque to mark a year since the siege

The controversial Lal Masjid or Red Mosque in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, is no stranger to violent confrontation.

More than 100 people were killed in fighting there in July 2007 after Pakistani troops stormed the building to evict militants who had taken sanctuary within its complex.

The military operation brought to an end an eight-day siege at the mosque, well known for its radicalism, and its attached Jamia Hafsa seminary.

When the mosque temporarily re-opened later that month - and was promptly reoccupied by protesters - a suicide blast nearby killed another 14 people.

The building finally re-opened in October 2007, following a Supreme Court order and a pledge that it would not be used for political activity.

The raid on the mosque triggered a series of revenge suicide bombings and other attacks by militants across Pakistan, killing hundreds of people.

A suicide bomb attack in Islamabad after a rally was held to mark the first anniversary of the siege appears to have targeted security forces.

Vocal criticism

The mosque has long had a reputation for radicalism, mostly attracting Islamic hardline students from North West Frontier Province and tribal areas where support for the Taleban and al-Qaeda is strong.

Pakistani religious students and residents gather outside the Red Mosque after Friday prayers, 4 July
The Red Mosque and its seminaries has long had a reputation for radicalism

The Jamia Hafsa madrassa, a religious school for women, is attached to the mosque and a male madrassa is nearby. Several thousand students are housed at the two seminaries.

The mosque has been the centre of a hardline Islamic student movement which has been vocal in its criticism of government policies.

In past years, the mosque has often been favoured by the city's elite, including prime ministers, army chiefs and presidents.

Pakistan's longest-ruling dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, was said to be very close to the former head of the Red Mosque, Maulana Abdullah, who was famous for his speeches on jihad (holy struggle).

After Maulana Abdullah was assassinated in the 1990s, his two sons took over the running of the complex.

The brothers admitted to having had good contacts with many of the wanted leaders of al-Qaeda, including Osama Bin Laden.

However, after the 2001 terror attacks on the United States, both the Red Mosque and the Jamia Hafsa denied having had any links with organisations now banned for supporting terror.

In July 2005, Pakistani security forces tried to raid the mosque following suicide bombings earlier that month in London but were turned back by baton-wielding women students.

The authorities said they were investigating a possible link between the seminary and one of the bombers.





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