Lal Masjid Final Update

Many of the women had been among the cleric’s most fervent supporters. Six of the children said they had been kept in the basement of the mosque but fled when their guards disappeared after commandos overran it, Arshad said.

The Lal Masjid cycle of steadily escalating violence is now over with the authorities in control of the mosque, the rebel cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, and fifty militants dead. The militants range from a collection of hardline terrorists in groups like the outlawed TNSM and HIJ, to some who were brainwashed students. The best running timeline report to present can be found at Metroblogging Islamabad.

Both Tehreek Nafaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) and Harkut ul Jihad al Islam (HIJ) appear to be aligned to separate groups of Taliban. One group is the Mehsud -led Pakistan Taliban in SWFP/Bajaur, the other is more aligned with the militants still tied to Al Qaida in the NWFP. The latter group, aligned with TNSM is likely where the suicide bombers of recent days (Gilgit, Bajaur, Swat) originated, while the former group is where the HIJ urban assassination plots against government figures seem to originate. Of the two, the HIJ faction is more likely to be aligned with what I call “The old Guard ISI” factions. [Editor:*This is my absolute pure speculation and gut instinct from reading between the lines of news stories the past weeks — no hard facts or evidence here.*]

There are varying reports on the numbers of innocent hostages who escaped, however after the initial batch of 20 children escaped there were reports of  groups of burqa clad women sporadically running from the mosque, including Ghazi’s wife and his daughter. It appears that the terrorists spread throughout the 70-room complex with different groups of hostages who were broken free at different times — here’s one such report from Metroblogging:

A new update from official sources put the security personal death toll to 8 which includes one captain from the SSG force. In the meanwhile around 24 burqa clad women with 20+ children managed to escape the complex. The operation is now going on in the southern section of the complex.

There were initial reports that Ghazi surrendered, however those later changed as it seems the hardline terrorists who assumed control later in the standoff would not let him surrender. This from Reuters:

Pakistani forces killed a rebel Islamist leader and more than 50 militants on Tuesday after 15 hours of fighting in an Islamabad mosque compound to end a week-long siege.

Militants mounted a last stand in the basement of a religious school where cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed, the Interior Ministry said. There was no immediate word on the fate of women and children he was said to have been using as human shields.

“Ghazi was surrounded by the militants who did not let him surrender and he was killed in the crossfire,” Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said.

Cheema said some surviving militants fought on after Ghazi was killed.

Shortly after, at around 7.30 pm (1430 GMT), night fell and the gunfire died down, with the cleric’s residence still to be swept of possible resistance…

The operation took so long because there were more than 70 rooms in the sprawling mosque-school complex, and the militants were armed with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades.

“Militants are taking positions in almost every room, they’re fighting from room to room, they have positions in the basement, on the stairs,” Arshad said during the fighting.

Meanwhile in the frontier provinces there are reports of riots, and roads blocked – TNSM is blocking the historic Silk Road to China. UPDATE ON THIS AT LGF.