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Clash over mosque averted

March 22, 2013

ISLAMABAD, March 21: On Thursday night, a clash between two groups over yet another mosque in the capital averted.

This time around, the location was the rural area of Malpur.

A standoff developed between two rival groups of the area, one of which occupied a local mosque. In reaction, the other group surrounded the building.

Malpur's Kiani group, which is linked to the administration of Lal Masjid, ‘raided’ the local Masjid Quba, breaking a police seal that had been put on the building several months ago at the request of the capital administration.

“There were dozens of people from the Kiani group inside the mosque,” a police officer told Dawn.

“They occupied the building in retaliation to their rivals, Shaikh, which are backed by a religio-political group, had surrounded the mosque. Both groups were armed with weapons, batons, and sticks," the officer said.

Masjid Quba was built over ten years ago. The property, over one hectare, belongs to the government, but both the Kianis and the Shaikhs, settled there   since long, have "had their eye on it" as a location for a seminary.

Struggles for control over the property have a long history, and supporters of both Lal Masjid and the Sunni Tehreek have at times been involved.

The police officer told Dawn that a man named Afsaryab Kiani, who said he had built the mosque, ‘handed it over’ to Lal Masjid administration. After the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad, the Kiani group abandoned the mosque, and the Shaikhs took over its administration.  Three months ago, however, the Kiani group raided the mosque and the two groups came across and a ‘brawl’ ensued, which threatened local law and order, forcing Islamabad administration to seal the building.

On Thursday, local villagers notified the police about the latest outbreak of rivalry at the mosque, and a large contingent of police officers, along with members of the anti-terrorism squad and anti-riot gear, reached the scene in time to prevent a major conflict.

An Islamabad official said that ‘negotiations were carried out’ with both the groups, convincing the Shaikhs to break their cordon and the Kianis to vacate the property.

Members of both were threatened with criminal charges for breaking the seal of the building and for creating a public nuisance and a report was registered with the Secretariat police station.

The mosque has been sealed again, and armed police officers have been deployed to ‘prevent such attacks from occurring in the future’, the officer said.

The rivalry continues, however; local villagers, many of whom are supporters of the Shaikh group, later blockaded Murree Road for several hours, protesting the Kiani's ‘illegal occupation’ of the mosque.