ISLAMABAD, July 8: As the standoff between Lal Masjid militants and security forces entered the sixth day on Sunday, the killing of SSG Commander Lt-Col Haroon Islam by militants raised the possibility of an all-out assault on the complex.
After the death of the SSG commando chief during an abortive attempt to enter the mosque, no major exchange of fire took place throughout the day, except for a few shots fired from both sides.
Special Services Group Commander received a fatal bullet injury while trying to enter the mosque along with his three colleagues — Maj Tariq, Capt Omar and Capt Bilal.
The three commandos received bullet injuries and the condition of Maj Tariq was stated to be critical.
In a surprise move late on Sunday night, the security forces closed the camp office of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Press Club situated a few yards away from the ‘no-go area’ within the curfew zone. They also asked journalists to leave the area.
The action reinforced the view that security forces were planning to storm the complex.
Two students surrendered on Sunday. They have been identified as Akbar Shah and Noor Hayyat.
A helicopter flew low over Lal Masjid to take some pictures of the mosque which indicated that the roof of the Jamia Hafsa was intact, but its outer walls had been damaged.
The pictures also proved wrong a claim made by Maulana Ghazi that some 300 girl students had died in Saturday night attack.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz presided over a high-level security meeting at which he reiterated the government’s position that the militants must release all hostages, lay down their weapons and submit before the law.
“They have not only adopted an uncompromising attitude, but also provoked law-enforcement agencies,” he said.
The prime minister said that every possible effort had been made by the government to start dialogue with the Lal Masjid administration, but the response of the militants had always been unreasonable.
Meanwhile, some political circles have urged the government to provide a ‘safe passage’ to Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi to resolve the issue peacefully.
However, Interior Minister Aftab Sharpao told reporters that the government would never provide a safe passage to Maulana Ghazi. He said the government was avoiding an attack on the mosque in order to save the lives of innocent students who had been made hostage by hardcore militants.
In a separate press conference, Minister for Religious Affairs Ijazul Haq said that some foreign militants were also present inside the mosque and they were fighting alongside local militants against members of the security forces.
He said some high-profile terrorists, who were wanted both inside and outside the country, were also holed up in the mosque. He, however, refused to divulge their names and the groups they belonged to.
He said there was also information that terrorists involved in the attack on the prime minister in Attock were also present in the mosque.
Talking to Dawn, Interior Secretary Syed Kamal Shah said that at least 15 suicide bombers were present in the mosque and they had been given explosive belts.
“We also have information that militants have heavy ammunition, landmines and rocket launchers,” he said.
He said the government had cut 12 landline telephones of Lal Masjid and blocked over 80 SIMs of mobile telephones being used by Maulana Ghazi to contact journalists.
He said that Lal Masjid militants had made all students, including girls, hostage and injured three girls by firing on their legs when they tried to escape.
“We believe that the militants might kill all students and put the blame on the government,” he said.