May 21, 2007

More tension in mosque stand-off

Radical Islamic students in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, have kidnapped three more policemen in the city, police officials say.

The incident has created a second tense police hostage stand-off in the Pakistani capital.

Students from the city's Red Mosque kidnapped a group of four policemen on Friday, but two were later released.

The incident comes in the face of a possible operation against the mosque and its associated seminaries.

'Illegal detention'

One report says that the three policemen were driven off in a car with clerics from the mosque, amid rumours that they were about to be released.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says that the policemen kidnapped in the latest incident on Monday afternoon were part of a mobile patrol that was stormed by students from the Jamia Fradia seminary.

Our correspondent says that the two sets of kidnappings in the heart of the Pakistani capital are another serious challenge to President Musharraf's authority.

Eye witnesses say that while the officer in charge managed to escape, two junior officers and a constable were dragged off to the confines of the madrassa, which is located in an up-market part of the city.

The madrassa administration is currently negotiating with the authorities over what they say is the "illegal detention" of their students.

A senior official with the local police has confirmed the incident to the BBC, and said they are trying to resolve the matter by negotiations.

On Sunday, about 40 Islamic students were detained amid continuing tension over the two policemen still being held hostage at the mosque.

Officials said the students are being held to stop them from going to the Red Mosque to support those who seized the policemen on Friday.

Two of a group of kidnapped policemen were released on Saturday.


Clerics said the remaining ones would be released in exchange for several students being held for some months.

The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) mosque and a seminary attached to it has campaigned for strict Islamic law to be enforced in Pakistan.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying that some people were "intercepted" to stop them from going to the Red Mosque.

"The government is not planning any operations against the seminary or the mosque," Mr Cheema told Reuters.

"We will not let things get out of control. They are not enemies, but our own people, and we hope this will be settled through dialogue," he said.

Mr Cheema said the detained students were expected to be freed later, but did not give any details.

A defiant Maulana Abdul Aziz, chief cleric of the mosque, threatened "jihad" or holy war if the authorities raided the mosque.

Reuters reported Maulana Aziz as saying, "We are ready to fight, we are ready to die, but we will not back down."

On Saturday, dozens of students from the Lal Masjid seminary seized the four policemen and took them inside, demanding the release of 11 students detained by intelligence agents.

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