Captured cleric released to preach at brother’s funeral

THE captured chief cleric of a militant mosque was allowed to lead funeral prayers for his slain brother yesterday and he predicted that the deaths of the mosque’s defenders in an army raid would push Pakistan toward an “Islamic revolution”.

The crackdown on the Red Mosque raised the standing of President Gen Pervez Musharraf among moderates and foreign backers worried about rising extremism in Pakistan.

However, it has given hardliners a rallying point, as well as new martyrs, and has prompted calls from al-Qaida and Taliban for revenge attacks.

According to official reports, 108 people died in the eight-day siege and army assault at the mosque.

There were at least three protests yesterday in Pakistan and two suicide attacks that killed six people in the north-west, a hotbed of Islamic extremism. Government forces surrounded the mosque compound in the capital Islamabad following deadly clashes with militants. Elite Special Services Group commandos raided the mosque after unsuccessful attempts to get the militants to surrender.

Troops found the body of the cleric’s brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi among the remains of at least 73 people after the 35-hour commando assault ended Wednesday. Ghazi’s body was released to his relatives, who carried it to his ancestral village in Punjab province for burial.

The chief cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz was escorted by police to the village Basti Abdullah, so that he could lead the funeral attended by about 3,000 mourners and 700 police, including 100 plainclothes officers. Aziz remains under arrest facing charges including possession of illegal weapons and involvement in terrorism.

“Hundreds of our mothers, sisters, sons and daughters have rendered sacrifices,” said Aziz, dressed in white with a checkered head scarf. “God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit."

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